Everything Old Is … Still Old

The new season of the AMC television network program "Mad Men" has returned to great hoorah. This “second coming” is featured in every entertainment and news publication, enjoying major story status and, in some cases, cover positions.

For those of you not plugged in, and there can’t be many, the series is set in a fictional 1960s-era New York City advertising agency, complete with authentic fashions of the day, furniture of the moment, houses right out of Beaver Cleaver’s neighborhood, plenty of cigarette smoking everywhere, and glasses of scotch-on-the-rocks never far out of reach.

Sub-plots for the program revolve around actual world events of the time period, including the Kennedy presidency, Cuban missile crisis, Khrushchev, the Cold War, the beginning of American involvement in the conflict in Vietnam, The New York Yankees, and the realization by East Coasters that there is an attractive lifestyle on the West Coast, meaning life does not end at the Hudson River.

The major storylines are about relationships in the office, at home, and in social settings like bars. It depicts a more innocent time, which it probably was, when drugs and guns were not so common, and a woman was never fully dressed without a string of pearls around her pretty neck.

"Mad Men"’s nostalgia aspect is a big attraction to viewers as they tune in Sunday nights, which, truth be told, is a lot like the way it was when all of America tuned into the biggest television program of that era, "The Ed Sullivan Show." Maybe we have not come as far as we think we have.

What "Mad Men" has re-ignited is, in fact, a movement for period cocktails, the kind we have not seen or thought about for a very long time.

Back in those days, mixes and pre-made cocktails were not involved. Every alcoholic drink was made from scratch, as you ordered it. Oh sure, some drink standards, like Bloody Marys, were made up in advance without the alcohol or the citrus to save time. The difference between then and now was that back then the bartender made his own tomato base for the drink. There were, of course, bottles of tomato juice, but that is what they were, just juice.

Then, when the bartender (and it was usually a “he”) came to work, he added lemon juice, spices, hot sauce etc. to his own private recipe. A Bloody Mary at your favorite watering hole was different from a Bloody Mary at the bar on the next block. The drink was basically the same, just with subtle differences, because most bartenders of the day followed certain recipe books, like the Mr. Boston Official Bartender’s Guide. Every bar had one. Incidentally, this book has just been updated and re-released.

Today, of course, some bars take the shortcuts of bringing in bottled (pasteurized) citrus juices, pre-mixed additives, and canned ingredients. That direction is not the way the best bars are operating. Most have returned to the prep rituals and fresh-ingredient responsibilities of previous times.  

Gratefully, we are seeing a renaissance of well-crafted cocktails from that "Mad Men" era of the '60s. Of course, many of those working the bar today have never personally experienced those drinks. These cocktails have not been ordered by customers for quite some time. And since those who formerly drank such concoctions have not done so for awhile, and those making the drink have maybe never made, or properly made, the drink in question, then, as a public service, which is what I am all about, I am setting down here the recipes for a few drinks from that era from two trusted sources.

My compliments and thanks to New Orleans’ own, Cheryl Charming, and her penned volume, The Everything Bartender’s Book, Adams Media, Third Edition, 2010. The other resource used here is a personal favorite, James Waller’s drink-ol-o-gy, The Art and Science of the Cocktail, Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2003.

Incidentally many of these drinks are maddeningly simple to make. Infusions and multiple exotic ingredients were not parts of that '60s power-drinking culture. The drinks had to be made quickly, and it had to be a no-brainer to do it again. With a barroom full of thirsty executives, their entourages and wannabes, all coming in at 5:00 p.m., multiple difficult-to-handle ingredients and strange processes were not going to meet the demands of a thirsty crowd after a stressful day of business.

Rob Roy (Cheryl Charming)
1 ½ oz. blended scotch whisky
½ oz. sweet vermouth
Dash orange bitters
1 lemon twist

Combine the liquid ingredients in a mixing glass. Stir well. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon twist.

Perfect Rob Roy (Cheryl Charming)
2 oz blended scotch whisky
1 teaspoon sweet vermouth
1 teaspoon dry vermouth
Lemon twist

Combine the liquid ingredients in a mixing glass. Stir well. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon twist.

Manhattan, Dry (James Waller)
2 oz. Canadian blended whiskey
¾ oz. dry vermouth
Dash Angostura bitters
Lemon twist

Rim a chilled cocktail glass with the lemon twist. Combine other ingredients in a mixing glass, with ice. Stir. Strain into the cocktail glass. Garnish with the twist.

Classic Manhattan
Same as above, except add ¼ teaspoon maraschino cherry syrup, another dash of bitters and garnish with maraschino cherry.*

Tom Collins (James Waller)
2 oz. gin
½ oz fresh lemon juice
½ oz. simple syrup
Club soda or seltzer
Maraschino cherry
Orange slice

Combine gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker, with ice. Shake well and strain into a (tall) collins or highball glass filled with ice cubes. Top with soda/seltzer. Briefly stir. Garnish with cherry and orange skewered together.

Old Fashioned (James Waller)
2 orange slices
2 maraschino cherries
(one of the pieces of each fruit is for muddling; the other for garnish)
1 teaspoon superfine sugar
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 ½ oz. bourbon or rye
Club soda or seltzer

De-stem one of the cherries. In an old-fashioned glass, carefully muddle the sugar, bitters, one of the orange slices, and the de-stemmed cherry. (Caution: muddling with too much pressure can easily break a glass. Be firm but not heavy.) Discard the orange rind. Add a splash of soda to the muddle mixture. Stir briefly. Add three or four ice cubes and the bourbon. Top with soda or seltzer. Stir briefly. Garnish with other pieces of orange and cherry.

Gimlet (Cheryl Charming)
2 oz. gin
¾ oz sweetened lime juice (or fresh lime juice and simple syrup)
Lime wedge

Shake the gin and lime juice together in a shaker with ice. Strain into rocks glass containing ice. Garnish with lime wedge.

Gin Rickey (Cheryl Charming)
2 oz. gin
Juice of one lime
Club soda to fill

Shake the gin and lime juice in a shaker with ice. Strain into highball glass containing ice. Fill with club soda.

Whiskey Sour (Cheryl Charming)
2 oz bourbon or whiskey
1 oz. lemon juice
1 oz. simple syrup

Shake all ingredients in shaker with ice. Strain into a short glass containing ice.

Sloe Gin Fizz (James Waller)
2 oz sloe gin
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
½ oz simple syrup
Club soda or seltzer
Maraschino cherry

Combine sloe gin, lemon juice and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well. Strain into highball glass filled with ice. Top with club soda or seltzer. Stir briefly. Garnish with cherry.

Let the throwback celebration begin. Tasty drinks and short hair. Say, do you think Nixon stands a chance at winning the presidency?


*Ed. Note:
We (royal; referring to the web editor, specifically, Alex N. Gecan) suppose the classic Manhattan Cocktail recipe to read as follows:
1.5 oz bourbon, rye or Canadian whiskey
3/4 oz sweet vermouth
Dash Angostura bitters

Shake the above ingredients vigorously over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass; garnish with  maraschino cherry.

(The above omits entirely both dry vermouth and lemon peel/twists)

M. McNally and myself agree that the addition of maraschino cherry syrup is the invention of M. Waller, who asserts that its inclusion or omission is a matter of taste.

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