Ted Danson Talks Mixology, Favorite Cocktails

Actor Ted Danson famously played the bartender/bar-owner (and teetotaler) Sam Malone on the TV show “Cheers.” Today, Danson continues his connection with the alcohol world as brand ambassador for Diageo’s Smirnoff Vodka.

Danson toured Diageo’s production facility in Plainfield, Illinois, on Oct. 4 — National Vodka Day — to see how brands like Smirnoff are blended, flavored, bottled and boxed. The tour also highlighted Smirnoff’s Made in America campaign with Danson, reminding consumers that while the vodka bears a Russian name, it’s 100% produced in the U.S.

During the day’s festivities, I had opportunity to chat with the actor:

Beverage Wholesaler: What cocktails do you prefer?
Ted Danson: My favorite vodka cocktails depend on the season. In the summer I like vodka with cranberry juice and soda. In the colder months, I’ll take a dirty martini, straight up. Especially if it’s shaping up to be a really fun evening.

I just came back from Hawaii. They had a fruit called the lilikoi. That and some vodka was delicious. The drink wasn’t even infused with the lilikoi — the cocktail had the pulp in it and everything.

I’ll always take something fresh in a cocktail. Where I live we have a lot of orange trees. I’ll pick some fresh oranges and peel them and put that in a drink — that’s great!


The problem, though, with being an actor is that I’m up at 5 in the morning every day, and I’m supposed to seem smart and remember my lines. So drinking is not really a huge part of my daily routine now. And having played Sam Malone, being around intoxicated people is not always the easiest thing.

BW: When you do find time to go out, what sort of bar do you prefer?
TD: Any place with live music. I find that live music really heightens the atmosphere of a bar.

BW: Are there any bars where you’ve heard particularly good live music?
TD: My wife and I like to go to Nashville. In addition to being an actress, my wife is also a songwriter and singer. In Nashville we like to go to the Bluebird Café. That’s where a lot of the great musical acts come through, so you can normally catch some really good music there.

BW: Among your colleagues, who were some good drinking buddies?
TD: George Wendt, Woody Harrelson, basically the entire crew on the set of “Cheers.”

BW: What’s your take on the craft movement?
TD: I think it’s really interesting! I saw a basil martini earlier today — that’s crazy! And I find it fascinating that they’re not called ‘bartenders’ anymore. They’re mixologists!

BW: What would Sam Malone think of the craft movement?
TD: I think he’d say, ‘Gooolly, look at these kids!’ Haha, either that or he’d try to find a way to get into that game somehow. Mixology has really become a big deal.

BW: What did you enjoy the most about your tour through the Diageo plant?
TD: I’m a boy, so I really enjoyed looking at all the gadgets of the mechanized assembly line. I was amazed by how everything happens so fast on the line.

I also should give a big shout out to all the people I met during the tour. There were some really great personalities among the Diageo plant staff. They really made it feel like a family atmosphere in there. They were literally some of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and were more than happy to talk about what they did.

BW: What has allowed Smirnoff to survive the test of time?
TD: No question about it: the quality. It’s just some really good vodka. And it’s priced at a point where anyone can afford it. They say, ‘Here’s something really fresh and spectacular and anyone can buy it.’ That’s a winning formula.

Kyle Swartz is managing editor of Beverage Dynamics magazine. Reach him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com or on Twitter @kswartzz. Read his recent piece Is There a Craft Beer Slowdown? Photos by Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images for Smirnoff.


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