I am a big fan of Meehan's, and I was very excited to see this volume published. Meehan's is one of the most authoritative and inventive voices on the subject of cocktails, both classic and modern, and this entry into the crowded world of cocktail books is decidedly highly anticipated.
To be fair, this is, undoubtedly, an excellent cocktail book. It contains interesting twists on some classic staples (Benton's Old-Fashioned, with bacon-infused bourbon, por ejemplo) as well as some interesting original concoctions from the PDT menu. Some of the boutique items, such as complicated syrups and infused versions of liquors, have detailed instructions on how to go about making your own version at home -- which is quite thoughtful and a mitzvah. The illustrations are whimsical and fun, and the book has the feel of something worth having -- it is nicely bound and solid in a way that few books are these days. It even has a nice satin-feeling bookmark so you don't have to dog-ear pages to remember where you want to go for the next round once you're a few drinks in.
There are, however, several downsides to this book, in my opinion. First, and probably most relevant, is that specific makes and models are suggested for each liquor in each drink. This would be fine, if the authors indicated the rationale for the suggested bottle and provided some guidance on substitution suggestions. Because they fail to explain WHY they choose a specific vintage (Beefeater gin for this drink, Hayman's Old Tom for that one), the reader is left with the impression that one needs 30 different bottles of gin to make 30 different drinks. This approach may make sense for a fancy cocktail bar in Manhattan, but the authors have now ventured into non-enterprise cocktail making, and they need to be more reasonable about what the amateur cocktailier knows and can reasonably access as she or he plays with these very inventive recipes.
The other somewhat major challenge with the book is the fact that the drinks themselves are never pictured. Over the past year I've been working my way through many of the recipes in Esquire magazine's classic "The Drink Book", and this has been my biggest frustration -- for some obscure drinks with boutique ingredients, one never quite knows if you've gotten it "right". In the absence of lickable paper or a buddy who makes all the classics and can critique your technique, the best way for a novice to benchmark their end results is to have a picture of what a finished version of the cocktail looks like (well, that and drink it and see if it's delicious). Those images, even in illustration form, are decidedly absent from this book, which feels like a bad editorial decision.
There are other minor items that could have transformed this good book into a great book. When I blog about cocktails, I often try to provide some context for the drink to help guide people to something that they might like -- this drink is on the sweeter side, that one has a more tropical feel, this other is probably most appropriate for someone who loves a good belt of Scotch early in the morning, whatever, just something to give people a little organizer in their heads around what they might experience in the drink. Those discussion are missing from this (and most) cocktail books, much to my chagrin.
Overall, these little oversights (or editorial omissions) add up, and by the end the book sums up to less than it could have been. And yet...despite the challenges, it remains a good book with great recipes that will no doubt distinguish itself among the din of cocktail books entering the market this year. Its definitely worth having, but if you're a true newbie in this space, I'd start off with Dale Degroff's book and work your way up to this one.