“TEACHER. MOTHER. Secret lover.” That’s how Homer Simpson once memorably described television, and we can add to that, “Bartender.”
Some famous TV libations are fictional, like Duff Beer on “The Simpsons,” Slurm on “Futurama” or Raktajino from “Star Trek.” Some should remain fictional, like the “fight milk” from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” Some drinks are indivisibly associated with characters, like Cersei Lannister’s Westeros Arbor red wine and Capt. Jean-Luc Picard’s “tea, Earl Grey, hot.” And because television has a way of seeping into our cells, dictating what we wear, drive and say, it also has something to do with what we drink. This is particularly true of stylish TV shows, shows that create a milieu into which we joyfully sink night after night. I’ll admit I got a vintage-y haircut after watching “The Queen’s Gambit” (note: That vivacious flip takes as much work as you’d think), and the main character’s constant sipping of Gibsons had me pickling onions for months.
But there are two shows that made such seismic waves across pop culture that no sector of the economy was spared: “Mad Men” and “Sex and the City.” “SATC” single-handedly brought back the everyday tutu and convinced legions of women that walking the long concrete blocks of Manhattan in 6-inch Manolos was a great idea, while “Mad Men” had us all rushing out to buy skinny ties and learning to make rumaki. And they gave us pop culture icons, Carrie Bradshaw and Don Draper, who, it could be argued, turned into avatars of a very specific kind of idealized gender type.
And, crucially for this column, both can be identified by their signature drink.
Don Draper’s tipple of choice is an “old-fashioned”: bourbon whiskey with muddled bitters, sugar and a cherry or peel garnish. Don made his old-fashioned with rye instead of regular bourbon. Early on in the show, his assistant Peggy is advised to keep a bottle of the stuff in her desk in case of, one supposes, some kind of boss-related meltdown. A subtype of bourbon, rye whiskey is a smooth, strong drink, dignified but with a spicy secret, much like Don Draper himself. Of course, there are two kinds of “rye” in alcohol-land: American rye whiskey, which must legally comprise at least 51% rye grain (the rest is usually a corn-malt bourbon blend), and Canadian rye whisky (they even spell it differently up there), which may have only a tiny amount of rye in it for flavor. The latter is actually the “rye” favored by Don Draper, and like a true ad-man, he was very brand-loyal. So if you really want to make an accurate reproduction of the drink, make it with his favorite Canadian Club rye whisky. My personal theory as to why this drink was written as his favorite is because Canadian Club was also James Bond’s tipple of choice in the novel version of Ian Fleming’s “Dr. No.” Don, I’m sure, would have courted the association.
But if the old-fashioned became an actual character of its own on “Mad Men,” “Sex and the City’s” signature drink took it a step further: It wouldn’t be too much to say the cosmo has actually become a metonym for the show’s main character, Carrie Bradshaw, sex writer and fashionista. Test yourself: Can you see, order or even think of a cosmo at this point without an image of a befrocked Carrie flashing through your brain, even if you hated the show? And like Carrie, the drink only looks sweet. Made with tart cranberry juice, an even more tart squeeze of lime and a dash of triple sec, the cosmo is unabashedly, unapologetically, vivaciously pink and looks a bit like a fruity drink. Although, in reality, there’s only enough juice to mask the bite of the drink’s primary ingredient: straight vodka.
The cosmopolitan falls into the “daisy” family of drinks — that is, drinks made with a sour cocktail base of two parts spirit to one part tart-sweet mixer adjusted with a liqueur and served neat (a margarita is also, appropriately, a “daisy”), and while many vintage cocktail books from the Prohibition era contain recipes called “cosmopolitans,” it’s not clear when the current cranberry incarnation was born. Like many cocktails, it has many self-appointed creators. But what is obvious is a drink that broadcasts overt femininity while packing a punch like a prizefighter perfectly encapsulates Carrie Bradshaw. Both cosmopolitans and rye whiskey in general supposedly experienced a moment during the runs of their respective shows, and even today, you’ll see dressed-up toffs out on the town happily imbibing both cosmos and old-fashioneds.
Had they lived in Manhattan at the same time, one suspects that Carrie and Don might have even had an interesting evening out together. And since they’re both fictional, and this is supposedly the golden age of television reboots, who’s to say they won’t? Throw in a little time travel and a dish of salty peanuts, and you have the ultimate crossover episode, coming soon to a streaming service near you.