Going ‘Mad,’ Man, over classic cocktails

25 Mar

The return tonight of the cult TV hit “Mad Men” after a 17-month hiatus has caused a resurgence in all things ‘50s — fashions, attitudes and, most of all, cocktails.

The blogosphere is replete with suggestions and questions concerning “classic cocktails.” High-end bars are offering their takes on the drinks poured on the TV series. Some people even are holding “Mad Men” viewing parties at home, drinks included. The only thing that is more mixed than the recipes is a true definition of what “classic” means.

One’s age helps define what “classic” means. To children of the ‘60s and ‘70s, a Harvey Wallbanger or a Sex On the Beach might be a “classic.” To others, such as the “Mad Men” generation, a Manhattan, Sidecar or Old Fashioned fills the definition.

For me, the ‘50s returned to meet current culture a few years ago when I had to decide what to do with my late parents’ household.

Breaking up a house full of stuff can uncover a cache of treasures or a pile of junk. Of course, just like defining “classic,” defining the terms “treasures” and “junk” is a very personal thing.

Among the items that were useful items back in the ’40s and ’50s but eventually tucked away with their memories and other items from their younger days were treasures of the drinking culture.

One was a yellowing, hardcover copy of “The Official Mixer’s Manual,” the 1949 edition of a book originally published in 1934. The other was a cocktail shaker of about the same vintage. Each item brought back a flood of memories.

When I was a kid of pre-legal drinking age, I used to whip up cocktails and hors d’oeuvres for my parents and their friends, a group that enjoyed partying in those days when the men wore suits and ties, the women wore dresses and pearls, and no one could afford hired help. Luckily for all concerned, I enjoyed the work and had a knack for it.

I learned how to make quite a few cocktails from that book, and the recipes printed on the frosted glass of the cocktail shaker were a handy cheat sheet when memory failed me under pressure.

The pertinence of these items today is simply that, in an era in which there is an increasing interest in classic cocktails, they show what was popular back then: The whiskey sour, the Manhattan, the Bacardi, the Daiquiri, the Tom Collins, the martini and the Alexander.

And it was an era before those who made a living mixing drinks decided to give themselves fancy titles and seek out media stardom. And, it was an era before spiky hair-do’s, casual-sloppy clothes and a general disregard for the niceties of society became the norm.

Patrick Gavin Duffy was for generations the acknowledged master of the cocktail in much of the world. You still can find copies of his books (“The Bartender’s Guide,” “The Standard Bartender’s Guide,” “The Official Mixer’s Guide,” “The Official Mixer’s Manual for Home and Professional Use”) through eBay, Amazon, and other online sites.

Duffy said in his forward to “The Official Mixer’s Manual” — “Bartending is an old and honorable trade. It is not a profession and I have no sympathy with those who try to make it anything but what it was. The idea of calling a bartender a professor or a mixologist is nonsense. … A good bartender wears a fresh white linen coat, and I personally fancy a carnation.”

About his own drink preferences, he noted: “With very few exceptions, cocktails should be stirred and not shaken. A stirred cocktail is clear and fresh and retains its vitality. A shaken cocktail is muddy in appearance and has so much ice diluted into it that it is a very insipid affair.”

Another Duffy observation: “It is one of my fondest hopes that the highball will again take its place as the leading American drink. I admit to being prejudiced about this — it was I who first brought the highball to America, in 1895. Although the distinction is claimed by the Parker House in Boston, I was finally given due credit for this innovation in The New York Times of not many years ago.”

That was in 1934, and Duffy’s wish came true 25 or so years later. However, he could not have foreseen the boom in vodka consumption that most influences today’s cocktail menus. So, in honor of Duffy’s memory and fine works, here are recipes for several truly classic drinks from his book.


1 part St. Croix rum
2 parts whiskey
4 dashes lemon juice

Shake well with cracked ice, strain into a tumbler and fill with club soda or any sparkling water.


4 ounces rye whiskey or bourbon
1 teaspoon powdered sugar
Juice of ½ lime
Juice of ½ lemon

Place all ingredients in a shaker with cracked ice, shake well and strain into a cocktail tumbler. Garnish with an orange slice and a maraschino cherry.


1 part Plymouth gin
1 part lillet
2 dashes orange juice
1 dash apricot brandy

Shake well and strain into a glass. Squeeze a lemon peel over the top and garnish the glass with it.

Check out my New York Drinks Events Calendar, the most comprehensive anywhere.

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Posted by on March 25, 2012 in Cocktails


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