Mixing It Up
OWP talks cocktails with Mixology innovator Jim Meehan
Jim Meehan is a world-renowned mixologist.
He began his bartending career in 1995 in Madison while attending the University of Wisconsin. In 2001, he moved to New York City, where he developed his palate at Five Points and Pace. Three years later, he showcased his burgeoning bartending skills at Gramercy Tavern and Audrey Saunder’s Pegu Club. In 2007, he was named a StarChefs.com New York Rising Star Mixologist.
Ready to invest in his own venture, Meehan and partners opened PDT (Please Don’t Tell) in New York City. The bar has received numerous awards and accolades, including a 2009 Spirited Award for “World’s Best Cocktail Bar” at Tales of the Cocktail, and a 2012 “Outstanding Bar Program Award” from the James Beard Foundation. In 2011, the bar published “The PDT Cocktail Book,” which was honored with a James Beard Award nomination.
Meehan contributes to Food & Wine’s annual cocktail book, GQ.com, Liquor.com, Mr. Boston’s Bartender Guide, Sommelier Journal and The New York Times.
Fortunately for Oregonians, Meehan recently moved to Portland with plans to open a bar in the future.
OWP: How did you first become interested in mixology?
JM: I wasn’t familiar with the term “mixology” when I started tending bar in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1995. With that said, I’ve always taken pride in my work and wanted to know more about the products I pour. Back then, craft beer, modern gins, flavored vodka and small-batch bourbons were all the rage. I made classic cocktails with fresh ingredients in Madison, but I didn’t have access to cocktail pioneers like Dale DeGroff or Gary Regan until I moved to New York City. Under the guidance of Audrey Saunders at the Pegu Club, I learned a great deal about crafting cocktails before opening PDT in 2007.
OWP: What is your absolute favorite cocktail to make? Favorite to drink?
JM: Hopefully this doesn’t disappoint you, but I enjoy making all drinks. Some are more challenging than others, technique-wise, but each offer the opportunity to please the person I’m serving; and that’s why I make drinks. As for my favorite cocktail, it’s too hard to narrow it down… I’m a situational drinker, and am happy to let my server choose my drink if I get the sense that they’ll put some love into it. I’d stay home if the drink was all that mattered to me.
OWP: In regard to wine, what is your favorite red? Favorite white?
JM: Following a trend in this interview, I don’t have a favorite wine either. I tend to prefer Old World wines, and really enjoy natural wines, but some go too far. Region wise: Loire Valley, Northern Rhône, Burgundy, Piedmont, Friuli and the Mosel are some of my favorites. I’m looking forward to learning more about wines from Oregon now that I’m here.
OWP: What do you miss most about New York bar scene? What do you like most about Portland’s?
JM: I miss the people in New York City’s bar scene. Over 12 years, I made a lot of great friends, and we have history together. Having a little anonymity has been nice in Portland! Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing I love more than the camaraderie I share with other bartenders, chefs and restaurateurs, but when no one recognizes me, I can get a better sense for a bar and the way it operates.
OWP: Any plans to open a bar or restaurant in Portland?
JM: As I look back at all the places I worked, I miss Gramercy Tavern the most. (I’m still a partner at PDT, and involved in the day-to-day from afar, so I get my fix cocktail-wise.) The plan is to open a restaurant here. My wife and I met at Gramercy Tavern, and she has extensive experience working in the front of house. Whatever (and whenever) we decide to open will have a strong bar program, which complements the cuisine and rounds out the beverage program. While spirits and cocktails are my passion, I take pride in being conversant about all beverages, and look forward to showcasing my skills alongside my wife and our chef.
OWP: Name your three favorite Oregon-made craft liquors.
JM: Ransom The Emerald 1865 Straight American Whiskey, House Spirits Krogstad Aquavit and Clear Creek Pear Brandy.
OWP: Have you ever made a cocktail using wine? If so, can you chare a recipe with our readers?
JM: Here’s a cocktail (SEE BELOW) I created for a pairing competition against Master Sommelier Emily Wines at a Kimpton Hotel in New York City in 2009. I thought it would be fun to use wine in all of my cocktails for this event to showcase its mixability. Champagne and Sherry are the most common wines mixed in cocktails, but I’ve used still whites and reds based from numerous varietals over the years.
1½ ounces Clear Creek Framboise
1 ounce Royal Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos “Red Label”
½ ounce PAMA pomegranate liqueur
3 drops of rose flower water
Stir with ice and strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with a pink rose petal
Photo by Minnow Park