Don Draper’s no-nonsense old-fashioned for two

I have no idea why I have to special-order Myers Platinum Rum in Providence, but four liquor stores I checked didn’t have it. Installment 3 of the Month of Rum is delayed until after my order arrives on Friday, which in all practicality means until Tuesday of next week. Sorry, rum chums. Meanwhile, rye.

If you’re not caught up on Mad Men, you might want to stop reading right now.


It happens to all of us, eventually. You’ll be at the country club, at a party hosted by your boss, who’s in the midst of a humiliating midlife crisis. He’ll be the fool in blackface, serenading his new bride, who’s 30 years his junior. Disgusted, you’ll walk away and seek out another old-fashioned. Alas, no bartender will be on duty, and the famous hotelier who’s rooting around behind the bar will declare that he’s on the same mission as you, but to his dismay, there’s no bourbon.

With a James Bondian flourish, you’ll leap over the bar, rummage a bit, and find some good Old Overholt. You’ll take a couple of glasses, drop a sugar cube in each, and dash in some bitters. While the bitters soften the sugar cubes, you’ll find any old tall glass behind the bar and fill it about halfway with ice. Free-pour the rye over that, open a bottle of soda water, and splash some in. Muddle the sugar cubes. Roughly thrust a barspoon up and down in the tall glass three times, and then pour the drink, ice included, half into one glass and half into the other.

You’ll drop a wedge of lemon into each glass, then, but you won’t bother stirring the sugar into the drink, probably because you’ll be making out with someone else’s spouse by the time you’d reach the sugary sludge. And you’ll have yourself an old-fashioned rye cocktail. Hand one off to the hotelier and drink up.

At least that’s what you’d do if you were Don Draper, ad man. If you’re Michael Dietsch, sad man, you’ll scratch your head and laugh at how slapdash it all is. And then you’ll ask yourself two questions:

  1. Is a drink made this way any good?
  2. Just what kind of Old Overholt was Don Draper drinking anyway?

As to the first, well, I’m not sure. We don’t have any Old Overholt around, and either no one in Providence is ordering it, or there’s a shortage or something. The one place that reliably has it, hasn’t had it in over a month. I can get Beam Rye, Wild Turkey Rye, and, as I found out today, (ri)1, but not Overholt. I mixed it with the bird. Because the drink is barely stirred, and therefore barely diluted, it was strong. Not unpleasant, but nothing I’d want to drink several of in a day. Now you’re probably saying, “Wait a minute, Dietsch. Turkey’s 101 proof. Of course it was strong! And it’s an unfair comparison, since Overholt is 80. What gives, moron?”

Well, here’s what gives. Today’s Old Overholt is not the same product it once was. Y’see, Old Overcoat used to be, in fact, a 100-proof spirit. And when I asked the rye geeks on eGullet when that changed, the drinks historian David Wondrich told me that Overholt was bottled in bond (at 100 proof) until at least 1980. Which means Don was certainly drinking some hardnosed, 100-proof whiskey, not today’s 80-proof number.


16 thoughts on “Don Draper’s no-nonsense old-fashioned for two

  1. There’s a fun continuity error in that scene. The bottle of bitters appears to be Angostura with the label peeled off. You can see the distinctive yellow top in all the long shots but it disappears for all of the closeups.

    Once again, bitters don’t get no respect. 😉


  2. Braved the spoilers (since I’m watching on DVD) … when I first starting experimenting with Old Fashioneds, I learned they were done with rye — but always used bourbon, and bartenders looked at me weird when I specified “bourbon Old Fashioned.”

    Of course, since the one I’ve worked up over time (and based on the work of one bartender in particular) involves shaking and triple sec, I’ve got no cred.


  3. Yeah, Dr. B, I got the same reaction with to same exclamation. But despite the quick stir, it looked to me like he put in more than a splash of soda so I didn’t think it looked like it would be too strong. (I also thought he was a bit light on the pour for the rye for 2 drinks.)


  4. At one point in time, Gasbarro’s carried Saz 6 yr. Julian’s used to have it behind the bar and I think that’s where they were getting it from. Now, my question is, how roundly should one be mocked not only for recognizing that bottle of Overholt instantly, but also for remembering which stores carry which ryes in a state he hasn’t lived in for 2 years?


    • Good work, Doc. The funny thing is, I knew the Overholt scene was coming up. Jen didn’t. So in our case, she was the one to blurt it out. Awesome.

      Benito, good sleuthing. I didn’t notice that.

      Bram, I never shake my OFs, but I do sometimes swap in various liqueurs for the simple syrup. It’s a versatile drink that way and rewards experimentation. I think my favorite is Benedictine!

      Pantagruel: You’re right about the seltzer. I didn’t add any. The only water I use in an OF is a splash of warm water from the tap, alongside the bitters, to help dissolve the sugar. It would have been a better drink had I added more water myself.

      Doug: Good work, Pegu man! If I had my way, I’d keep several ryes on hand all the time. In fact, probably everything currently bottled except for Beam.

      Dave: Several places in Providence carry the baby Saz these days. In fact, Saz and Wild Turkey are probably the most common ryes you can find around. Gracie’s usually keeps the Saz, and so does La Laterie. In fact, not only does La Laterie carry the Saz rye, but the barman makes a pretty good Sazerac cocktail as well. Finding a good Sazerac cocktail in Providence was a happy discovery!


  5. Funny thing is, Old Overholt at one point was 86-proof, and I had the opportunity to try it side-by-side with today’s 80-pf offering, which is perfectly decent rye and very well-priced.

    The 86-proof was better =:-(


    Thank God for Rittenhouse BIB.


  6. There’s quite a few slipshod cocktails going on in that show (though it makes me want to drink all day nonetheless). What would you call Roger’s 2/3 of a glass of Smirnoff topped off with milk? Or the weekend cocktail Don and Betty drink at times, 2/3 of a glass of vodka with a splash of tomato juice.

    And please bemoan rye shortages carefully… lest you be stricken with the shortage I have in puritanesque Maine. Old Overholt, Jim Beam Rye, Sazerac, and (ri)1, which is definitely not worth the price difference. No Wild Turkey Rye, nothing over 80 proof, And definitely no Rittenhouse.

    Glad I stumbled on this blog, looking for Don’s rounded-bottom, gold-rimmed rocks glasses online.



  7. Watched that episode’s re-run last evening and was reminded once again that no one ever called the 60’s the “Golden Age of Cocktails.”

    When the Beatles returned in early 1964 from their first trip to America, the reception at the airport included scotch served in paper cups! I remember folks back then drinking lots of scotch & soda. 7 & 7. CC & 7. Bourbon & Coke (or any other soft drink). The absolute pit was anything made with Southern Comfort per Playboy recipe inserts! No wonder someone once said the 60’s lone contribution (?!) to cocktail culture was the martini on the rocks.

    My mom liked Dad to make her old fashioned with bourbon & what she called “a lot of fruit salad.” But never club soda! Today, I make my wife’s manhattans with Sazerac 6 yr bought by the case in Newport, KY — 2 parts rye stirred with 1 part Vya sweet vermouth & Angostura orange bitters. Pour over a cherry & slip a tsp of syrup down the side of the stemmed glass.


  8. Commenting now that I’ve actually seen the episode … and my tastes and mix has changed. Rye, a sugar cube drenched in angostura, a little fizzy water, two ice cubes. Since there are several Old Fashioned recipes around the house now, that one’s referred to as the old-fashioned Old Fashioned.

    Plus, an awesome scene, really.


  9. Draper made more or less a traditional old fashioned, normally made with bourbon but rye will do. We’ll just call it a rye old fashioned or Overholt old fashioned. At least that’s how I’d order it in a bar. I think he muddles a cherry in with the sugar and bitters and throws a orange wedge on top of the whole thing. Some purists would disapprove of the soda water, the cherry, and the orange wedge. There isn’t a definitive old fashioned per se, it’s a matter of taste. At my bar we’ve been making overholt old fashioneds and calling them Don Drapers. Hopefully it will catch on.


  10. nothing beats a brandy old-fashioned . . . I have to tell bartenders how to make one . . . . . . also, it’s sad that there no longer is 100 proof Old Overholt


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