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Monday, April 13, 2015

Drink Like a Mad Man - 10 Classic Cocktails From Mad Men

Brandi Boles prepares the cocktails at Tom Bergins
Mad Men helped revive the cool factor of traditional old-school cocktails. Throughout the show the booze flows freely and Don Draper and company drink a lot. In fact the very first drink Don Draper orders in the first episode of the first season was an Old Fashioned, and from there cocktails became their own character in the show. I asked the good folks at TomBergin’s Public House, who hold one of the oldest liquor licenses in Los Angeles, to craft these drinks so I could photograph them using traditional glass ware. Noteworthy for the final season is that watering holes like Tom Bergin’s and others will be hosting Sunday night Mad Men viewing parties, complete with their versions of these cocktails (Tom Bergin’s is offering each cocktail at just $10), costumes and more, so if you don’t want to make a great cocktail, you can still order one.

Bloody Mary: The quintessential “morning after” cocktail is believed to cure hangovers due to its use of a vegetable base, typically tomato. I’m not certain a hangover is cured by more alcohol but Don’s employer, Sterling Cooper & Partners, had copious pitchers of them ready for their morning ad meetings. Of course at Don and wife Betty’s house on any given Sunday they were staples as well, not to mention it was a favorite drink of Peggy’s. Assuming you’re not merely adding alcohol to a V-8, there are many different versions around. The best strike a balance between the spice, the tomato and the booze making for a multi-dimensional drink.

Brandy Alexander: With its creamy sweet taste, the Brandy Alexander is akin to a milkshake rather than a cocktail. Drama critic and Algonquin Round Table member Alexander Woolcott claimed that it was named after him, but we’re sure that’s not true, though its origins are dubious. In the first season, episode 11 before she was the copy chief at Sterling Cooper then secretary Peggy Olsen, trying to appear sophisticated and beyond her years, orders a Brandy Alexander while on a date with a truck driver. She insists the drink is not sweet enough, which tells you why she was just merely a secretary. Why it works is that it’s like an adult candy bar in a glass; sweet tooth satisfaction with a kick.

Gimlet: In the second episode Betty Draper joins her husband Don, Roger Sterling and Roger’s first wife Mona for dinner and drinks. Foreshadowing her later apparent insecurities Betty downs Gimlets like it was a circus trick, then packs in a heavy, rich dinner of Lobster Newburg whose ingredients include lots of cream, butter and eggs. On the way home Betty realizes the error of her ways. “Lobster Newburg and gimlets should get a divorce,” she says. “They're not getting along very well.” Raymond Chandler opined about Gimlets in his classic book, The Long Goodbye, and he preferred gin over vodka. Perhaps Betty should have read more Chandler. The Gimlet is a light, streamlined drink, simple and pure, making it easy to consume.

Mai Tai: “Maita’I” is the Tahitian word for “good,” and it served Don Draper well when, in season 1, he is currying favor from Rachel Menken of Menken’s Department Store. Don fumbled badly at their first meeting assuming Rachel was a lowly secretary instead of a client, and he meets her for drinks to make amends. Menken knocks back several Mai Tai’s while Don sticks to his Old Fashioned. “That's quite a drink,” says Don – perhaps baffled by the tropical fruit and the cheesy Tiki glass, if not Rachel herself. Tiki Culture began in 1934 when two booze pioneers opened bars almost simultaneously: Don The Beachcomber in Hollywood, and “Trader Vic’s” in Oakland. Whoever came up with the Mai Tai is up to you. At its best the Mai Tai is a seamless blend of rum, tropical fruits and brown spices. My favorite Mai Tia was found in Honolulu:Boozehoundz's Mai Tai

Manhattan: This is the ultimate power drink of the show, and is still a favorite today. After her breakup with Mark in season 4, Peggy heads off to a bar with Don to drown her sorrows. Don of course covets his Manhattan in this episode and throughout the show. New York’s Manhattan Club claims that in 1874 at a party hosted by Winston Churchill’s mother, Lady Randolph Churchill, the cocktail came to be. Certainly more myth than fact, the Manhattan is nonetheless a masculine expression of confidence. It’s a classic mix; an angular drink with earthiness from the bourbon and sweet and smooth from the vermouth.

Martini: The liquid lunches favored by Don and his colleagues are often heavy on the martinis - a clear drink made of vodka or gin with a splash of vermouth. Roger Sterling tends to favor them as well, and no wonder, they are a classic American drink, and of course James Bond orders them in each 007 film, “shaken, not stirred.” Where martinis came from is unclear but the popular story goes that a miner walked into a bar and asked for a special drink to celebrate a gold strike during the California gold rush. The bartender threw together what he had on hand and called it a Martinez, after the town where the bar was located. Either way June 19th is National Martini Day, one of the few cocktails to have its own national recognition.

Mint Julip: The women of Mad Men drink too, and Betty knows her stuff when it comes to cocktails. In season 1 she makes a tray of mint juleps for the adults at her daughter Sally's birthday party, a much better amusement option than hiring a clown. The mint-and-bourbon based concoction hails from the South and first appears in print in 1803. Traditionally served in a silver or pewter cup, the mint julep as we now know it became the official drink of the Kentucky Derby in 1938 and featuring, you guessed it, Kentucky bourbon. Routinely 120,000 are consumed during the Derby. It’s cool and easy to drink, light and refreshing.

Old Fashioned: The iconic cocktail of the show, it appears in the first scene of the first episode of season 1, and we learn its name before we even learn Don Draper’s name.
Don sits in a smoky bar brainstorming ideas for a Lucky Strike campaign. “Do this again – Old Fashioned, please,” he tells the waiter. And thus begins the cocktail culture on Mad Men. As with virtually every cocktail on this list its origins are suspect, but the unifying theme is that mixologists (they were called bartenders back then) were getting fancy with mixing drinks, a smarmy grin on their faces as they attempted to dazzle the neophytes, like Tom Cruise (ick) in the film Cocktail. Purists wanted a return to the old fashioned way of making drinks, and the Old Fashioned took its rightful place in the pantheon of cocktails.

Tom Collins: In season 2, Draper instructs his daughter, Sally, on the art of mixing a Tom Collins for him and his neighbor Carlton Hanson. “Okay, you don’t smash the cherry on that. Just plop it in at the end. Try to keep it in the top of the glass.” Don routinely was fast and loose with his mixing of cocktails and, errant parenting aside, the Tom Collins is usually described as the perfect summertime drink because of its gorgeous simplicity and refreshing taste. It got its name from, literally, “the great Tom Collins hoax of 1874,” – an immature prank whereby a person went to a bar and told a patron that someone named Tom Collins was talking trash about him. The patron would then go looking for Tom. It didn’t take long for someone to name a drink after the non-existent Mr. Collins.

Whiskey Sour: When Ted, Peggy, and Pete were having dinner and drinks after their meeting with Ocean Spray (itself an oft used ingredient in many cocktails), Peggy says, “Could you get me another Whiskey Sour?” Pete nobly responds, "Maybe I'll switch to Whiskey Sours,” in hopes of impressing Peggy. The whiskey sour recipe was first published in a bartender’s book in 1862 though it is believed to have been around long before that when the adding of anything sour into a drink was more commonplace, perhaps helped fight scurvy and was probably a riff on punch. The potent lemon subdues the whiskey creating a juxtaposition of wood and citrus.

The author with Brandi Boles, beverage Director at Tom Bergin's and the 10 drinks

 (NOTE: The original version of this article (with recipes) first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter)


  1. OMG!! These cocktails are just fabulous. Seriously loved them and planning to have them in my cocktail party that will be arranged at one of local venue New York. Will surely have tasty cocktails there. Will have some ideas from here too. Thanks for sharing these cocktails here.