Drink like Commander-In-Chief: Presidential Libations

presidential beer 2 Drink like Commander In Chief: Presidential Libations

Tired of the election talk? Let’s look at a simpler (and more interesting) presidential past-time — drinking. Several of our presidents prided themselves on their drinking abilities, with two of making and selling liqour. Which drinks did some of our greatest presidents swear by?

Vote for me, I’ll give you booze

During George Washington’s second attempt at election to the House of Burgesses in 1758,  he passed out over 150 gallons of alcohol — a mix of distributing wine, beer, rum, and cider — to voters at the polls. Washington chose not to dole out this voter incentive while running for the House of Burgesses in1755, and lost in a landslide.  While this practice was technically legal, it helped George Washington win his first election, paving the way for the birth of our country.

George Washington had a personal affinity for Jamaican Rum, but possession was taboo during his time as Jamaica lied under control of the British Empire. This didn’t stop Washington, as he served barrels of the rum during his inauguration, while his wife often served a Jamaican Rum fruit punch at White House functions.

The first president owned and ran one of the largest whiskey distilleries in his retirement years after his time as President of the United States and Chancellor of  the College of William and Mary. The distillery becoming the most profitable aspect of his plantation, selling 11,000 gallons a year. Would you buy whiskey made by Bill Clinton? Hell yeah! One can only imagine that George Washington’s prominence aided sales.

A working reconstruction of Washington’s operation can be seen on the grounds of his Mount Vernon estate, with bottles of whiskey made in the same method as they did in 1799 selling for $185  a piece.

Washington is not alone as a president who sold alcohol. In a period of depression and listlessness in his youth, Abraham Lincoln became a storekeeper in 1932. As storekeeper, the 16th President held a liquor license and operated a general store in New Salem, Illinois. Lincoln sold Applejack, an interesting beverage you could make in your own home.  Applejack is derivative of apple cider attained by freezing the apple cider, and repeatedly pouring off the concentrated liquor to obtain an 80 proof, sweet beverage. Once in office, Lincoln rarely drank.

Abraham Lincoln Liqour License Brown Drink like Commander In Chief: Presidential Libations

Making Martinis while Fighting Hitler

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s alcohol-entranced lifestyle is well documented, with the greatest president of the 20th Century fighting Axis Powers while mixing martinis for his war council each evening. One of FDR’s first acts after becoming resident was the repealing of prohibition in 1933, paving the way for a palliative aid for those suffering during the Great Depression and the taxation of liquor that would otherwise be sold illegally.

One thing about FDR’s mixology skills – he sucked at it. According to his sons, Roosevelt could never find the correct balance of vermouth and gin. FDR (or an aide) did find the right mixture as when Roosevelt used the martini to win over Joseph Stalin at1943’s pivotal Tehran Summit, which also featured the brandy-loving Prime Minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchhill. Hitler refused to consume alcohol, instantly removing beer pong from the possible methods of ending World War II.

(LTFWUI): Leading the Free World Under the Influence

Whiskey (and it’s sweeter American derivative, Bourbon) were particularly popular with 19th Century presidents. President and Union General Ulysses S. Grant sipped on bourbon throughout his time during the Civil War and later in the Oval Office, while Martin Van Buren drank whiskey to the point of an astonishing tolerance. Van Buren’s 1840 election opposition successfully used his love of grain mash against him, leading to a defeat by William Henry Harrison.

Nixon notoriously imbibed in alcohol, and his penchant for recording all conversation in ear shot reflects in his slurred speech as recorded on the Watergate Tapes. If you pay close attention to the clip below, you can hear a half asleep Nixon slurring several lines of dialogue. Nixon enjoyed dry martinis with only a bit of vermouth as well as rum and cokes, while his staff also had a penchant for mai tais and other fruity umbrella drinks.

Modern Presidents steer clear of Alcohol

Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush both swore off alcohol before their time in office. In the days when George W. Bush imbibed, he was arrested at the age of 30 for driving under the influence and plead guilty.

Due to the advent of 24/7 media coverage, presidents in general have been less likely to admit to drinking or be seen with a drink in their hands. Bill Clinton supposedly had a beer or two every once in a while during his time in office, and noted that he acquired a taste for “Snakebites” – a mix of equal parts lager beer and hard cider – during his time as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford College.

President Obama  and Vice-President Biden did enjoy Sam Adams and non-alcoholic Buckler beer during their 2009 “Beer Summit” to ease political and personal tensions between Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sgt. James Crowley, easily the most alcohol-friendly gesture made by a sitting president in decades. Mitt Romney’s religion prevents the consumption of alcohol – regardless of the next election’s outcome, it looks as if the White House will remain relatively dry for the next four years.

Top picture is a construction using an image from the National Cancer Institute/PD. Image of Abraham Lincoln’s liquor license courtesy of the Brown University Library.

Keith Veronese has a Ph.D. in chemistry and regularly writes for Gawker Media's science site, io9. His worked has appeared on the Gawker Media sites Lifehacker, Deadspin, Kotaku, and Jezebel in addition to Paste Magazine, AMOG, So Jones, Hip Hop Press, and FormatMag. Keith also has a non-fiction book in the works, Plugged In: Comic Book Professionals Working in the Video Game Industry, which will be released by TwoMorrows Publishing later this year.

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