Drink History: President’s Day


Soldiers on both sides of the American Revolution were given rum rations to keep them alert and fearless, and almost a decade before the infamous Boston Tea Party was The Sugar Act of 1764- which inhibited New England’s production of rum and sparked the flames of the revolution. The celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence included “50 bottles of Madeira, 60 bottles of Claret (British nickname for Bordeaux wines), and 22 bottles of Port”.

Alcohol is a big part of American history, and today on George Washington’s birthday- President’s Day- let’s examine the drinking habits of some of our nation’s Presidents.

George Washington

Our nation’s first President was a legendary drinker, and drank a wide variety of libations before spending his retirement years as the Americas’ biggest whisky producer. He was known to drink a bottle of Madeira a night, and even racked up the modern equivalent of a $15,000 bar tab at his farewell party in 1787 at Philadelphia’s City Tavern.

Thomas Jefferson

As US Minister to France, Thomas Jefferson took many lengthy tours of French, Italian, and German wine regions. He is probably the US President most known for his love of wines, and had an extensive personal cellar including his favorites: Bordeaux (particularly Haut-Brion and Lafite), Sauternes, Hermitage, Champagne, Madeira, Port, Sherry, Tuscan reds, Riesling from Mosel- he even made a number of failed attempts to grow his own grapes stateside. Jefferson’s love of drinking is probably the reason he sympathized with whiskey distillers squashed by Washington during the “Whiskey Rebellion” of 1791 and repealed the so-called “whiskey tax” during his presidency.

Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson made and sold whiskey, and loved to drink rye whiskey straight as a matter of social routine. He is also credited with introducing “Daniel Webster’s Punch” to the White House, made with Brandy, Bordeaux, Champagne, green tea, sugar, lemons, and fruits like strawberries and bananas. His inaugural celebration in 1829 has been described as the wildest party in the White House’s history.

John Adams

A French dignitary visiting the White House was appalled by his “barbaric” drinking stamina- at 40 he partied all night for seven straight weeks with the younger men of the Continental Congress. He was known to drink cider every morning, and once tried to use his diplomatic immunity to bring in 500 bottles of Bordeaux without paying taxes- failed, then had Jefferson bring them in for him.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

The President to repeal prohibition loved cocktails, especially gin-based cocktails, and sometimes the whiskey-based Manhattan. His favorite cocktail to sip while sailing was a “Rum Swizzle”, made of dark rum, lime juice, orange juice, and a dash of Falernum.

John F Kennedy

JFK loved Heineken beer, which was imported and rare in the US at the time, and he and Jackie were also known to enjoy Bloody Marys and Daiquiris. Upon their arrival in the White House, a bar was added in the State Dining Room. First Lady Jackie hired a French chef to run the White House kitchen during JFK’s term, and at state dinners they served French wines such as Haut-Brion, Moët et Chandon, and Dom Perignon.

Richard Nixon

President Nixon is known as the President who introduced California wines to the White House, and served it extensively at state dinners. However, Nixon served California wines not out of American pride, but as inexpensive decoy wine- he kept a secret bottle of Château Margaux next to his seat for himself. What a jerk!

Ronald Reagan

Perhaps because Reagan lived in California during his Hollywood years, Reagan served California wines at many state dinners and historical events as a point of pride. His favorite wine was Beaulieu Vineyard’s Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, he introduced Boeger as the first Zinfandel to the White House, and reportedly celebrated the end of the Cold War with Gorbachev over glasses of Sonoma’s Iron Horse.

Barack Obama

President Barack Obama actually preferred beer to wine, but continued to serve wine at official functions- specifically, Domaine Chandon’s Blanc de Noirs from California, which has been served at every state dinner and is said to be his favorite. Obama is the first President to brew beer in the White House, after purchasing a personal home brewing kit with personal funds in 2011. The White House Honey Ale uses a pound of local honey sourced from South Lawn, and since 2012 three new beers have been added: White House Honey Blonde Ale, White House Honey Porter, and White House Honey Brown.


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