Planning the drink menu for a “Mad Men” party was once a simple endeavor. The first season of the show, set in 1960, landed squarely in the golden age of cocktail culture. It was a time when members of the Rat Pack were seldom seen without a dry Manhattan. Accordingly, gin martinis and the like were favorites at these mid-century-themed house parties celebrating Don Draper.
But what to serve for a party set around the much-anticipated debut of “Mad Men” season 6, premiering on AMC this Sunday? The new season, set in 1968, takes place at a time when cocktail culture was in a precarious slide as a new generation began rebelling against their parents’ beverages of choice.
“America was at the height of the Vietnam War in 1968, so many young Americans were being either shipped off to fight, or indulging in trippier forms of intoxication as part of the growing drug culture,” says Bob McCoy, bartender and beverage programs liaison of Eastern Standard , Island Creek Oyster Bar , and the Hawthorne .
Despite the burgeoning drug culture, cocktails did not entirely disappear. But 1968 marked a dramatic turning point in what Americans were drinking. According to Dale DeGroff, founder of the Museum of the American Cocktail , it was the first time that vodka sales eclipsed gin.
“Suddenly people were drinking extra dry vodka martinis with almost no vermouth,” DeGroff said. “Those were the days when someone would say, ‘Open the vermouth bottle on the other side of the room and blow in my direction.’ ”
It was also the era that drinks such as the Cape Codder and the Sea Breeze were born, and blended scotch replaced rye whiskey.
According to award-winning mixologist Brother Cleve, another new drink was gaining popularity: the corporate cocktail.
“This was one not created by bartenders, but by marketers and taste professionals, and then sold by Madison Avenue,” Cleve said. “So it’s appropriate that ‘Mad Men’ has reached the age where a dozen years of alcohol advertising becomes the norm.”
As a result, the late 1960s saw the spreading popularity of heavily advertised cocktail recipes for the Moscow Mule, the Screwdriver, the Greyhound, the Tequila Sunrise, and the Daiquiri.
Cleve said the late 1960s put three spirits in the spotlight and into the mouths of drinkers: Galliano from Italy, and Tequila and Kahlua from Mexico. Alcohol salesmen, not bartenders, created recipes for drinks such as the Harvey Wallbanger.
“This is the time when America begins to turn up its nose at more spirit-forward types of drinks and into much sweeter types of drinks,” he said. “Drinks where the alcohol is hidden amongst liqueurs and fruit juices. It would take 20 years for old drinks to become new again.”
Here are a few popular recipes that bartenders were pouring in 1968. Raise a glass to Roger
Sterling and get your paisley cocktail shakers ready.
2½ oz. aged rum (quality matters, get something aged around a dozen years)
¾ oz. freshly squeeze lime juice (not
½ oz. simple syrup
Pour ingredients into a shaker. Add plenty of ice. Shake with gusto. Double strain into a cocktail coupe. From Adam Lantheaume, owner of the Boston Shaker
Courvoisier VSOP Cognac (don’t break the bank, but get something of decent quality)
Fresh lemon juice
“Holy wars have broken out about the proportions on this one,” Lantheaume said. “Get quality ingredients and the rest will likely fall into place. A 3:2:1 would be 1½ oz. Cognac, 1 oz. Cointreau and ½ oz. lemon juice (and be boozy and delicious). 1:1:1 would be more tart.”
Add ingredients to a shaker. Add ice. Shake like the dickens. Strain into cocktail glass. From Adam Lantheaume
1½ oz. vodka
3 oz. orange juice
½ oz. Galliano
Fill a tall glass with ice and add vodka and fresh-squeezed orange juice. Stir. Float Galliano on the top. From Brother Cleve
1½ oz. Blanco (Plata) tequila
3 oz. orange juice
½ oz. grenadine
Pour tequila and orange juice over ice in a tall glass. Pour grenadine (pomegranate syrup) over the back of a spoon into the glass. Do not stir. The grenadine will sink to the bottom and then rise slowly. For best results use real pomegranate grenadine syrup. From Brother Cleve