From Don Draper's old fashioneds to Roger Sterling's smuggled-in Stoli, cocktails have played a deliciously major role on AMC's "Mad Men." But was it really that great an era to drink?

Because though the show celebrates — and has boosted modern-day interest in — classic cocktails, it is set in a decade, the '60s, when mixed drinks were sliding into a sugary slump, says drinks historian David Wondrich.

"Cocktails were struggling because they were kind of for the square, old-establishment types, they weren't for the new generation," says Wondrich, drinks columnist for Esquire magazine. Old-school bartenders were retiring and "getting replaced by young wannabe novelists and actors and not people who were going into it for a profession."

Since those days, there's been a revival of well-made drinks and the ingredients to create them, and bartending has become so seriously scientific it's known as mixology.

Back then, producers were still trying to sell spirits, but with new, zippy approaches that leaned heavily on brand advertising. "Those drinks can be fun in context; they're not primarily aimed at flavor or balance or anything like that," says Wondrich.

But if the drinks weren't particularly exciting, the "Mad Men" era was the best of times for the cocktail scene setting.

"The culture of the cocktail really exploded in the '60s," says Maureen Petrosky, author of "The Cocktail Club." Suddenly there were cocktail dresses, new glassware, bar couture, Tiki drinks. The cocktail hour had its own wardrobe.

What the "Mad Men" — and women — drink says a lot. One of Petrosky's favorite drinks scenes in "Mad Men" is when Roger returns from a business trip with a bottle of Stolichnaya vodka, not then available in the U.S. He shares it with Don, but when Pete, the colleague no one finds particularly congenial, shows up Roger tells Don to pour Pete a drink — but not the Stoli. "It was so telling of his opinion of Pete and of this new vodka," says Petrosky.

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Michelle Locke tweets at https://twitter.com/Locke_Michelle