Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Cocktails Of “Mad Men”




If you’re as much of a fan as I am of AMC’s television show “Mad Men”, then you’re likely both anticipating and dreading this season – looking forward to it because it’s been a while since the previous season ended and you’re anxious to see how The Draper Drama continues.  But at the same time, you’re dolefully aware of the fact that you’re facing the beginning of the end – the seventh season of “Mad Men” will be its last.  One of the things that this successful series has re-introduced to our society is the drinking culture that was so prevalent back in those days.  So, it was with great pleasure that I took a class at The Astor Center of New York City called “Cocktail Classics:  The Mad Men Era” taught by Lauren Davis. 



Upon entry, we were welcomed with a cocktail – The Gimlet.  Fans of “Mad Men” will recall that Betty Draper ordered a Gimlet in season 1 when she went to a bar; while the Gimlet we had was made of gin, it was not uncommon then to make Gimlets with vodka.  In “Mad Men”, Lauren said that drinking is considered to be just an additional character added to the cast – it is the crucial element which causes other things to happen. 



The character of Roger Sterling was rather partial to martinis, as evinced by the fact that he always kept a bottle of vodka (Smirnoff) in his office.  As a result, the first cocktail we made this evening was the martini – except that we made ours with gin instead of vodka because our instructor properly noted that gin adds more flavor.  Frequently, you may hear about or see martinis shaken, but Lauren correctly pointed out that they should be stirred because their ingredients are all booze (cocktails that contain juice should be shaken).  She said that stirring the martini keeps a silky smooth texture to it that you cannot get by shaking, which dilutes the martini with melted ice. 


The mixing glass in which the cocktail is stirred should be filled with cracked ice; you can crack ice by taking an ordinary ice cube and hitting it hard with the back end of a bar spoon. Our instructor informed us that the martini was originally called The Mahoney Cocktail  and was made with half vermouth, a fortified wine that is less popular now than it was in the 1950’s.  

Vodka, we were told, became popular after World War II because it had no taste and it allowed other ingredients to flavor the cocktail.  Additionally, it was felt that gin had too much flavor and was considered old fashioned – a spirit that grandpa used to drink prior to Prohibition. 

Next, we made The Old Fashioned.  Although Canadian Club was a whisky made popular in The United States during Prohibition (it was frequently smuggled into this country from our neighbors to the north), Rye was the whisky that became popular in America after prohibition, once the distilleries were given permission to restart; a spicy spirit, it was frequently used in The Manhattan.  In one episode of “Mad Men”, we saw how Don Draper made an Old Fashioned, arguably his favorite cocktail before he ultimately switched to straight whisky.  In this video clip, we see his technique – but be warned, this is not the proper way to prepare the cocktail.



We finished the evening by making a Mai Tai, a cocktail associated to The Tiki Culture.  How does The Mai Tai connect to “Mad Men”?  Well, the instructor believes that this was a cocktail popular with many of Don Draper’s dates.  The Tiki Culture came to be something of a fad in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  Post-World War II, the south pacific was seen as an exotic location and lifestyle which resulted in influences on dress, drink preferences, restaurants and bars.  Very kitschy, this style is now viewed as more ironic and humorous.  The Mai Tai is best made in a shaker filled with crushed ice; add a mint sprig to garnish, but don’t muddle it – instead, just smack it with the palms of your hands to awaken its scent, then place it in the Collins glass (add a straw to sip).


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