Or how the classic of all classic cocktails became cool again.
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve been privy to the recent cultural resurgence of all-things retro. While pop starlets croon antiquated lovelorn ballads and couples buy Eames chairs for their minimalist-chic apartments, nothing solidifies our current obsession with the early 1960s quite like the AMC series Mad Men — what with three-martini lunches, torrid workplace affairs, and sharp tailored attire, it’s hard not to be hooked.
While we love to watch Don Draper, the star of the series perfectly played by the ruggedly handsome Jon Hamm, we figured it would be way more interesting to pay homage to this era with our favorite past time: drinking. Enlisting the help of prolific bartender and co-owner of Brooklyn’s Dram and The Drink and Mad Men enthusiast Frank Cisneros, The Hooch Life set out to learn how to drink like our mid-century hero, Don Draper.
What characterizes a mid-century drinker?
Between sips of beer, Frank explained the fundamental factor of early-‘60s imbibing: bigger is better. “People in the mid-century drank a whole lot more than we do. And the quantity became more important than quality,” opines the stylish barman, clad in Mad Men-approved black rimmed glasses. “So big drinks were better. Take your modern-day Manhattan, and double it, and drink twice as much, and that’s what it was like to be a Mad Men drinker.”
What would Don Draper actually order?
According to Frank — who is a devoted follower of the show and a fan of mid-century fashion and design — Mr. Draper’s drink choices harken back to the classics. “The Old Fashioned is Don Draper’s signature drink, and it’s really interesting in the context of this show because of how he makes it — it’s pretty much the best way to make it,” continues Frank. “There’s one episode where Don jumps behind the bar at a party and teaches somebody else how to make an Old Fashioned. And the approximate way he makes it is 2 ounces of rye whiskey — not bourbon — a couple dashes of bitters, sugar, and a dilution of the water from the ice, and that’s it.” (Watch Don Draper make an Old Fashioned)
So drinking like our favorite Mad Men character means being a cocktail purist? According to Frank, Don Draper’s Old Fashioned was antiquated by mid-century standards. “Even by the turn of the century, people were calling that version of the Old Fashioned, the “old fashioned” — literally. This variation is close to what has been dubbed the very first cocktail ever made, which dates back to around 1806. So it’s interesting that he chose to make it that way.”
How does the at-home boozehound emulate this iconic era?
Frank suggests investing in quality ingredients, even though this wasn’t always the case in the Mad Men-era. “Don appreciates the finer things in life because he came from such humble beginnings,” concludes Frank, finishing his beer. “So I would recommend that you use good quality spirits to echo Don’s love of opulence.” Whether you want to relive the mid-century at home or in a classy watering hole, wear your sharpest suit, and raise a glass to Don Draper and our cocktail-loving forefathers.
Don Draper’s Old-Fashioned
2 ounces Rye whiskey
3 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 sugar cube and 1/2 teaspoon club soda
1 Orange Peel
1 Orange peel or lemon peel
Place orange peel, sugar cube and Angostura bitters in the bottom of a short tumbler. Add club soda to the top of the cube. Muddle gently until the sugar is dissolved, forming a syrup. Add whiskey and ice, and stir. Garnish with a fresh peel of an orange or lemon to your taste.