Film Friday: Mad Men

At long last Mad Men is back! A couple episodes into the new season and we’re as happy as Roger Sterling in a pool full of Stolichnaya, which is why we’re taking this opportunity to bend the rules on our Film Friday series. So sure, Mad Men isn’t a film, but after 4 seasons the character development is outstanding, the writing is absolutely on point, and the editing and camerawork are downright cinematic. Besides, it’s our blog and we’ll do what we want.

So suppose for a moment that for the past five years you’ve been consciously avoiding AMC and shunning their programming lineup. Maybe you’re under the impression that this “Mad Men” thing that people keep talking about is some gruesome spinoff of Angry Birds. But now you’ve seen the light. You read something online that changed your mind, or that cute girl at work was talking about the show, or maybe your friends and family staged an intervention, because they love you and want you to be happy with your television choices. Anyway, you’ve decided that you need to start watching this Mad Men show and through the miracle of Netflix you can start right from the beginning.

While I wouldn’t recommend going drink for drink with the characters onscreen, we find that the show’s more enjoyable with a strong drink in hand. As such, here’s a guide drinking along with Mad Men, season by season.

Mad Men season one with a Martini and Vodka Gimlet

Season 1: Martinis and Vodka Gimlets

Still steeped in the glamor and buttoned-up culture of the 1950’s, the first season of Mad Men begins in 1960 – the Drapers and the Sterlings sip traditional alcohol-heavy drinks in their favorite clubs, at home, and at work. More importantly, these period-appropriate cocktails will sooth the shock of some characters’ blatant sexism. But as the final scene of season 1 implies, the shows writers have a higher opinion of the female characters than do many of the male characters.

Season 2: Cuba Libres and Heineken with a side of Utz potato chips

I must admit, that of the four full seasons so far, season 2 is my least favorite. However, 3 & 4 more than make up for it and there are important plot points in season 2 that will be important later on. We went with Heineken and Utz for this season because both brands are featured as clients of the Sterling Cooper ad agency. But with the Cuban missile crisis looming at the end of the season, we figured the politically pertinent Cuba Libre would make a good fit.

Season 3: Old Fashioneds and French 75s

Season 3 is back on track with quality writing, compelling stories, and masterful filmmaking. This season is one of triumph, tragedy and strife, which made our selections more difficult. There is a birth and a death, which led us to the French 75. A celebratory drink, the French 75 is champagne-based, but also takes its name from a First World War artillery gun. And in episode 6 an altercation with a lawnmower inspired the selection of the Old Fashioned, a somewhat gory muddled drink.

Season 4: Irish Coffee and Dempsey Cocktail

We figure that if you’ve gotten this far you’ve probably missed some sleep, so wake yourself up with an Irish Coffee and soldier on. You’re on the home stretch. Once you’re awake, switch to the Dempsey Cocktail (which we’ll be posting in a few days). Named for the legendary boxer Jack Dempsey, this drink fits in with season 4’s combative themes. As Don battles with Betty and Sterling Cooper Draper Price go head-to-head with a rival agency, we see the characters at their best and at their worst. In fact, in one of the show’s many examples of highlighting historical context, episode 7 takes place the same night as Muhammad Ali’s second match-up against Sonny Liston.

Season 5 is off to a good start and we’re super excited to have new episodes to look forward to. As the season progresses, leave us suggestions in the comments as to what your drink of choice is for this season.

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New Year’s Eve 2011: Nomayo

While our previous two cocktails, the French 75 and Scotch Royale are classics, our third and final New Year’s cocktail is a new one. The distinguishing ingredient here is St. Germain Elderflower liqueur, which has only been on the market a few years. Even so, this distinct French import has found its way into a host of fantastic new cocktails, plus the deco-tastic bottle looks great on any bar.

This recipe was pulled directly from the St. Germain website.

1 1/2 oz vodka or gin (we used vodka)

3/4 oz St. Germain

1/2 oz lemon juice

top with champagne

Fill a shaker half full of ice and shake all ingredients except the champagne. Strain into a chilled champagne flute or coupe and top with champagne. Garnish with an orange peel.

The Nomayo

New Year’s Eve 2011: Scotch Royale

A variation on the traditional Champagne Cocktail (just champagne, sugar, and bitters), the addition of scotch makes this a little stronger and an excellent New Year’s tipple for whisky fans. This is the second installment of our three day series of champagne-based cocktails leading up to New Year’s Eve. Yesterday we posted the classic French 75, and check back tomorrow for the Nomayo.

1 1/2 oz scotch whisky

1 cube sugar

3-4 dashes aromatic bitters

top with champagne

Drop the sugar cube into the bottom of your champagne flute or coupe and add bitters, then scotch. Top with champagne.

Scotch Royale

New Years Eve 2011: French 75

Well Christmas is over and we’ve said farewell to Egg Nog for another year (officially anyway). Now it’s time to move on to the next major drinking holiday: New Year’s Eve! For our party this year, we’re moving beyond the traditional to something a bit more exciting. We’ve invited each of our guests to bring the cheapest bottle of champagne or sparkling white wine that they can find, and we’ll use them to mix three different champagne-based cocktails. This is a fantastic way to drink well on New Year’s without breaking the bank on a $50 bottle of bubbly.

We’ll post one cocktail per day leading up to New Year’s Eve, so check back often!

Today’s cocktail is the ever-classic French 75, named after an artillery gun used by the French army in World War One. The traditional recipe calls for lime juice, but we think it works much better with lemon. You can also substitute brandy or cognac for the gin to make this a French 76.

A French 75 can also be served on the rocks in a highball glass

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Death in the Afternoon

It’s unclear whether this drink was invented by Ernest Hemingway or just popularized by him, but it’s strong and dangerously simple to prepare. Absinthe usually has an alcohol content around 60-70% ABV, so true to its name, this cocktail is best enjoyed on a weekend afternoon when you have no pressing obligations.

1 part absinthe

3 parts chilled champagne or other sparkling white wine

Pour the absinthe and the champagne directly into a champagne flute or coupe. Serve immediately.

There’s a bit of debate as to the order that the ingredients should be mixed. Absinthe-first results in a more homogeneously mixed drink, but mixing champagne-first is said to add spectacle as the green absinthe filters slowly down through the bubbles. Of course the choice is yours, and I suggest ample experimentation.

Ernest Hemingway's Death in the Afternoon