Why do people love the simple staple that is the 7 & 7? It’s the same reason why McDonald’s Big Macs and Coca-Cola are beloved: Consumers know what to expect. Whether you’re in Texas or New Hampshire, that drink is going to taste, more or less, the same — and people appreciate consistency.
Bar-goers also appreciate a tasty product. While the 7 & 7 isn’t necessarily at the peak of cocktail craft, it satisfies, and does so with two name-brand products. Essentially a cruder, short-cut version of a Whiskey Sour, the build calls for half Seagram’s 7 Crown Blended Whiskey and half 7 Up. The lemon-lime soda provides a citrusy note and enough carbonation to make the drink refreshing while snuffing out the notorious burn of Seagram’s 7 — and the colder it is, the better it tastes. But unlike other two-ingredient dive bar orders, the elements of a 7&7 are specific and unchanging, and that’s largely thanks to some ‘70s-era hijinx behind the stick.
The Evolution of the 7&7
The 7&7 actually stems from the John Collins, the recipe for which was recorded as early as 1869 and called for gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and soda. In 1876, bartender Jerry Thomas published the drink in his “Bar-Tender’s Guide,” changing its name to the moniker it’s now known best for: the Tom Collins, due to its inclusion of Old Tom gin. With this change, the definition of the John Collins became blurry, and while the International Bartender’s Association still claims that the drink requires gin, many modern renditions of the John Collins sub out the clear spirit for whiskey. The result: a carbonated Whiskey Sour, and the more elevated parent of the 7&7.
By the 1970s, dive bars were strengthening their hold on American culture. Their offerings generally consisted of beer, shots, and two-ingredient highballs. Vodka Sodas, Rum & Cokes, and Gin & Tonics garnished with the occasional lime wedge were as snazzy as it got. And while never ranking quite as popular as its fellow cocktails, the rolls-off-the-tongue 7&7 was one of those easy orders that became ubiquitous with local watering holes.
The Reliable Option
Back then, particularly sketchy dive bars were known for pulling a penny-pinching switcheroo when restocking their back bars: filling top shelf bottles with cheap liquor. The practice — which we’re sure still happens today — ended up making the 7&7 a surprisingly reliable option.
“They’d take the Gordon’s Gin and fill up the Beefeater bottle. Only a discerning palate would know the difference,” offers Richie Boccato, owner of NYC’s Dutch Kills bar and Hundredweight Ice company, as an example. But thanks to its already inexpensive price tag, Seagram’s 7 was the least likely bottle to be the subject of adulteration or swapped spirits, making it one of the most consistent liquors on the shelf at local dives. Even today, Seagram’s 7 retails for less than $20 a bottle. By law, to be called whiskey, a spirit must be at least 20 percent actual whiskey. Clocking in at roughly 75 percent neutral grain spirit and 25 percent blended whiskey, Seagram’s just barely makes the cut.
“In the mind of the barkeep — even if it’s a corrupt barkeep who would gladly do such a thing as marry a bottle that doesn’t match the other label — it’s almost more convenient to always use what comes in the Seagram’s bottle,” Boccato says. “It’s not a bank-breaker, either.”
That means that even if the bar in question got a good deal on Sprite over 7 Up, one half of the cocktail is still going to be as described, especially since bars would keep Seagram’s 7 on hand for the sole purpose of making 7&7s — there’s no other modern cocktail that requires it.
The Safest Option
There was also once an unexpected health perk to ordering a 7&7, especially at some of the less swanky establishments in town. When Boccato was earning his stripes at NYC’s now-shuttered cocktail institution Milk & Honey, he learned about the sanitary risks of speed pourers, the spout-like attachments on top of frequently used liquor bottles that make drink slinging more efficient.
“We never used speed pours ever,” Boccato recalls. “That’s where flies reproduce. Since Seagram’s 7 wasn’t that popular, most bars wouldn’t use them on that bottle.” And while flies can’t survive in a bottle full of alcohol, they certainly can thrive in the sticky-sweet, residue-caked speed pourers attached to the top of them. And as far as a less-than-diligent bar staff is concerned, a bottle sans speed pourer — like Seagram’s 7 — is one fewer item they’d have to cover in plastic wrap at the end of the night. These days, we’d like to believe that dive bars have got their speed pourer upkeep under control. But if ever in doubt, a 7&7 will almost certainly be insect-free. And odds are, it’ll be more balanced than a lackluster Vodka Soda or a potentially cloying Rum & Coke.
The 7&7 Today
It still may not be as common as a Gin & Tonic, but the 7&7 has come a long way since the ‘70s. The ingredients haven’t changed, of course, but its popularity has recently jumped thanks to the stagnant price point of Seagram’s 7 and a few of the brand’s semi-recent marketing pushes.
In 2018, Seagram’s founded National Dive Bar Day on July 7 (read: 7/7), and celebrated the inaugural holiday with a $25,000 donation to the National Trust of Historic Preservation in an effort to save struggling dive bars across the country. In 2021, as Covid vaccines were rolling out and businesses were starting to reopen, Seagram’s launched the “Keep The Dive Alive” campaign, which featured a series of ads starring comedian Iliza Shlesinger designed to teach people how to return to the social atmosphere of their local dive. Naturally, the ads promoted the 7&7, encouraging potential patrons to order one the next time they venture out.
So, for the love of your local watering hole, go out and order a 7&7. Not only will your order pack the confidence and cool factor of a dive bar-dwelling James Bond, but your drink will probably be satisfying and — for lack of a better word — safe.