Mad Men, the Lionsgate television series that first aired on July 19th 2007, had seven seasons of enormous success, ending in 2015. During its run, it gathered up 16 Primetime Emmys, as well as numerous other accolades, awards and nominations.
If you haven’t seen the show, then firstly; do so. Secondly, we’ll briefly offer its premise. The series revolved around the lives of advertising executives working at Sterling Cooper on Madison Avenue in the 1960s. The eclectic and creative executive advertising team is headed up by Don Draper, played by John Hamm.
The no holds barred professional lives of the team and its driven leader shows a hedonistic lifestyle characterised by smoking, philandering and, of course, drinking.
To quote the character of Don Draper; ‘’Advertising is based on one thing: happiness.’’ And if the number and variety of the whisky cocktails that are consumed by Draper and his motley band of creatives is any indication, then one of the keys to that happiness on the show is a classic whisky cocktail.
Whilst we wouldn’t want to encourage irresponsible drinking or attempting to find contentment in the bottom of a bottle, there is a time and a place for a sauvely shaken, precisely poured drink.
In the spirit of that statement, here are three sophisticated whisky-based cocktails that have made regular appearances on Mad Men, and two more classics well worth trying.
The Old Fashioned
This is perhaps consumed in greater quantities and with more enthusiasm than any other whisky-based cocktail appearing in Mad Men, and for good reason – it’s one of the most classic cocktails ever invented. Simple and sophisticated, the Old Fashioned consists of rye whisky, Angostura bitters, sugar, and an orange peel and cherry as a garnish. Serve over ice, to really open up the flavours.
This iconic whisky cocktail (in this case, bourbon) appears regularly during the course of the show’s seven seasons. This is a cocktail that many say is simply the most perfect example of the bartender’s art. It contains bourbon, angostura bitters, and sweet vermouth – and in keeping with its stylish reputation, a cherry (fresh this time), and that requisite orange peel twist. Once again, it is served with ice.
The Whisky Sour
In an iconic Mad Men episode, Peggy Olson, played by Lisabeth Moss, seeks entry into the ‘boys club’ of advertising execs – and the key to acceptance is the deployment of the Whisky Sour.
This is another classic cocktail that is as delicious as it is simple and sophisticated. Ingredients include fresh lemon juice (it must be fresh – not from a plastic bottle), bourbon, egg whites for that luscious texture, and simple syrup. Of course, orange and maraschino cherries make an appearance, too.
The key to the success of this cocktail is getting the proportions right. If mixed correctly, the result is not overly sour or sweet, but simply refreshing. Although not around during the time the show takes place, it would be a tragedy to not experiment with this one using a smoke top for drinks to take things to the next level. In the show, the billow of cigarette smoke served as a slightly less theatrical substitute.
These three whisky-based cocktails appear again and again in Mad Men, however, odds are that admen (and women) in the 1960s also enjoyed at least one of the following two classic whisky-based cocktails, too…
The Blood & Sand
Achieving popularity in the 1930s, but still popular in the 1960s, the Blood and Sand cocktail was inspired by Rudolph Valentino’s bullfighter movie, ‘Blood and Sand’, which was released in 1922. The mix requires that you use Scotch this time and other ingredients include cherry Heering (a Danish liqueur with a strong cherry flavor), sweet vermouth, and orange juice (freshly squeezed is best).
The Rob Roy
This is the perfect cocktail for those who want to stay true to the Mad Men mythology, but simply love their Scotch. It features the same ingredients as the Manhattan – Angostura bitters, and sweet vermouth with that obligatory Maraschino cherry – but it replaces bourbon with Scotch.
It seems unbelievable that the lives of the characters of Mad Men could in any way resemble that of executives who were part of the 1960s ad scene. However, meticulous research and comment from those who worked in the industry at the time confirm that the series bears more than a passing resemblance to the advertising industry during the 60s.
So, kick back, relax and take a trip into the decadent past with any one of these classic whisky cocktails. But just have one; this thing’s all about drinking responsibly, after all.