In his lifetime, my grandfather drank somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 7&7s: two a night from the early 1960s until his death in 2003. Aside from the occasional Bloody Mary or Screwdriver, and an annual sip of Champagne on his wedding anniversary, the man was devoted to the Seagram’s 7-and-7UP highball.
He wasn’t alone. Seagram’s 7 was ubiquitous in American liquor cabinets in the ’60s and ’70s. It became America’s best-selling brand in 1947 and maintained that position until the early 1990s. In 1965, five years after my grandfather began coaching high school football in Delray Beach, Fla., Seagram’s sold its 150-millionth case. In 1972, five years before Tony Manera ordered a 7&7 in “Saturday Night Fever,” Seagram’s 7 hit the 200-million-case mark.
Freshening an Old Staple
Since 2018, Diageo has worked to dust off the brand for younger consumers. It launched National Dive Bar Day on July 7 to celebrate the 7&7 as a dive bar staple, and a Seagram’s mobile dive bar has popped up across the country at concerts, sporting events and festivals.
I hadn’t had a 7&7 since shortly after my grandfather died 16 years ago. Then, last fall, bartender Nick Bennett at New York City bar Porchlight served me an updated 7&7. “I love cocktails that are misbegotten,” says Bennett, whose current menu has riffs on the Wisconsin Old Fashioned, Long Island Iced Tea and Amaretto Sour. “It doesn’t do our industry a service to say that things are done.”
To develop the drink, Bennett visited Brooklyn dive bars to see how 7&7s were served in their native habitat. The last time he had made them was 15 years ago during his first bartending gig at Corner Bar in Sag Harbor. “Essentially, you have this room-temperature spirit that’s poured over crappy ice and topped with syrupy soda from a gun. It starts out flat, bland and overly sweet,” he says. “I wanted to boost the carbonation, reduce the sweetness and chill the whole cocktail.”
Improving On the Original
In Porchlight’s updated version, Bennett combines Mellow Corn, Dickel no. 12 Tennessee Sour Mash, Candian Club Rye, Old Overholt and Cobalt whiskeys to imitate the Seagram’s blended style, and he adds a touch of Cointreau to play up the drink’s citrus qualities. House citrus syrup and black tea take the place of 7UP, and Bennett kegs and carbonates the drink for easy service.
“Everyone’s perception of the 7&7 is based on what people did without technology or techniques,” says Bennett, who also runs the beverage program at Cedric’s at the Shed. “But we’re at a point, thanks to people like Dave [Arnold] and Sasha [Petraske], that we can construct excellent beverages with newer techniques and better products.”
My grandfather would have liked Bennett’s version. And I imagine he would have been amused to experience an $18 7&7 in the shadows of Hudson Yards. (Though he worked for public schools his whole life, he enjoyed spending money on fine things.)
I didn’t realize how successful Bennett’s 7&7 was until I tinkered with versions at home. I made the drink with fancy citrus soda, infused the whiskey with bergamot tea and invalidated the warranty on my SodaStream by carbonating Seagram’s 7. Unlike Bennett’s, none of my experiments had the spirit of the original.
“Your grandaddy wasn’t a mixologist,” my grandmother told me when I spoke with her about his 7&7 ritual. But he was particular. He built his 7&7s in an iced tea glass with 1 1/2 ounces of whiskey, lots of ice (from a machine, not the freezer) and 5-ish ounces of 7UP (from small glass bottles, never cans).
Over the holidays, I cracked open a bottle of Seagram’s 7 that was tucked deep in my grandmother’s liquor cabinet. No one in the family had touched the stuff in more than 15 years. My dad and I enjoyed a nip of the mellow whiskey, if not the sweet, somewhat flat highball I made with it.