Jim Meehan knows a thing or two about drinks. A beverage professional for nearly 20 years, he’s an acclaimed bartender, journalist and the author of “The PDT Cocktail Book” and 2017 guide “Meehan’s Bartender Manual” (Ten Speed Press, $40).
Meehan visits Atlanta Dec. 18 for a dinner at Linton Hopkins’ new steakhouse C. Ellet’s that will see the drink specialist speak about the intersection of mixology and hospitality while guests enjoy a four-course meal paired with cocktails from Meehan’s new book. (Tickets to the Jim Meehan Beefsteak cost $135 and can be purchased at brownpapertickets.com.). He’ll also be at a book signing and meet and greet on Dec. 19 at Ticonderoga Club in Krog Street Market.
Those who can’t make merry with Meehan at C. Ellet’s can still take advantage of his bartending know-how. Meehan is full of ideas for entertaining this holiday season or any time you and a few friends gather around the home hearth with glass in hand.
If you’re the host or hostess for an upcoming open house, cocktail party or family function, perhaps you’re wondering how to stock your bar. Meehan cautions against loading up on just base spirits like whiskey, gin and rum. “If you only stock the base spirits, you’re pretty much drinking ‘on the rocks,’ or highballs.”
Instead, Meehan proposes picking up bottles of modifiers like Cointreau and Campari. “Those are the products that help you make a wide range of cocktails,” he said.
Cointreau, a brand of triple sec, is a common ingredient for classic cocktails like a margarita, sidecar and Cosmopolitan. Italian bitter liqueur Campari is essential for mixing a Negroni.
Whatever you do, don’t break the bank, he says. “People think they have to invest a lot to serve drinks in their home. That costs hundreds of dollars.” His approach is to build the home bar one drink at a time. “Every time you go to make another drink, you invest in one or two bottles, which opens up your recipe book.”
While cocktail recipes abound, steer clear of esoteric drinks, he said. “People’s bandwidth for picking up new things is much shorter and smaller at a cocktail party than at a serious cocktail bar.” Meehan’s go-to cocktail recipes for home entertaining include three timeless concoctions: a Gin and Tonic, an Old-Fashioned and a Manhattan. He calls them “drinks that won’t alienate anyone in the crowd.”
Just because the ingredient lists for these cocktails are short doesn’t mean the drinks have to be without character. Meehan’s solution for crafting them into something special: pay attention to sourcing. Which gin will you use? Which bourbon or whiskey? Meehan suggests seeking out a local distillery that makes a quality product and breaking out that bottle for your guests. “Hosting is really a show and tell. This spirit has a story. When you are a host, that is the story you want to tell your guests.”
Meehan also thinks it is important to know a bit about your guests, especially teetotalers, and cater to their tastes — be it with a special tea or carbonated beverage. But you can make it easy on yourself by preparing a special nonalcoholic drink that can be spiked for the booze crowd. Having a nonalcoholic and alcoholic drink that “have some relationship” is one more way to bring people together, he said.
Meehan is also a proponent of batched drinks, including punches. “Batching into a bottle or bowl is the key to hosting success and freedom. If you don’t batch, you are going to be bartending at your own party.”
Entertaining can be about looks, but do you really need fancy glassware to impress guests? Meehan says no. “Serve a Manhattan in a coffee cup, a margarita in a pint glass. There is something to be said for being eclectic and homey and serve in the glasses you have.”
Gin and Tonic
“Finding the right proportion of gin to tonic and serving them in the proper manner — either poured for the guest or served alongside the prepared glass — are key to this seemingly simple two-ingredient recipe,” says Jim Meehan of the Gin and Tonic in his “Meehan’s Bartender Manual.”
4 ounces East Imperial Burma tonic water
2 ounces Plymouth gin
1 lime wedge, for garnish
Build in a chilled Collins glass, then fill with ice. Garnish with the lime wedge.
When it comes to the Manhattan, Meehan says to “find a vermouth whose botanicals complement the character of the whiskey, with the bitters there to integrate the mixture.” As for garnishes, substitute brandied cherries with an orange twist, but “save the neon-red cherries dyed with red No. 3 coloring for the napkin next to your ice cream sundae.”
2 ounces Buffalo Trace bourbon whiskey
1 ounce Martini Rosso vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters
3 brandied cherries, for garnish
Stir with ice, then strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with the cherries on a pick.
Old-Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail
2 ounces Wild Turkey 101 proof rye whiskey
1 sugar cube
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Lemon and orange twists, for garnish
Muddle the sugar and bitters, then add the whiskey. Stir with ice and strain over one large ice sphere in a chilled rocks glass. Garnish with the lemon and orange twists.