Every four years, Americans choose beverages with which to either toast the new administration or drown their sorrows.
Derek Brown, owner of the Passenger Bar and the Columbia Room in Washington, D.C., is making drinks for his second Obama inauguration this year. While he can’t divulge what the current president will be drinking, he’s happy to share his favorite presidential drink stories (apocryphal and otherwise) as well as cocktails to accompany them. “Drinking,” he says, “is bipartisan.”
George Washington (1st president)
The first president was the only founding father to run a commercial distillery. It was the largest distillery in the country, producing 11,000 gallons of whiskey in 1799 for a nice profit. It was one of Mount Vernon’s most successful ventures.
The distillery has been recreated on the original foundation at Washington’s Mount Vernon, Va., home. The replica distillery demonstrates the whiskey-making process as it was done more than 200 years ago. Whiskey is made according to Washington’s original recipe: 60 percent rye, 35 percent corn and 5 percent malted barley. When available, it is for sale at the Mount Vernon shops.
Brown says Washington probably drank punches as well as Madeira, his favorite wine. “So, while this one was created after him,” Brown says. “I’m sure he would have loved it. In moderation, of course.”
American Whiskey Punch
1 cup sugar
Peel of 2 lemons
4 ounces fresh lemon juice
8 ounces water
16 ounces rye whiskey
3 cups sparkling water
Large ice block
Lemon wheels, for garnish
Muddle sugar with the lemon peels. Add fresh lemon juice and 8 ounces water, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add rye whiskey and sparkling water. Serve over large ice block in punch bowl. Ladle into wine glasses or punch cups and garnish with lemon wheels.
Andrew Jackson (7th president)
New Orleans, the last great battle of the War of 1812, and the villain of the Trail of Tears, forcefully removing the
Cherokee people from their land. He was a champion of personal liberty and democracy and a slave owner. There is, however, agreement that “Old Hickory,” as he was called, was tough as nails.
Jackson purportedly drank a cocktail of vermouth and bitters during the 1815 Battle of New Orleans.
Old Hickory Cocktail
1½ ounces dry vermouth
1½ ounces sweet vermouth
Dash Peychaud’s bitters
Dash orange bitters
Combine ingredients with ice and stir until chilled. Strain over fresh ice and garnish with orange peel.
Woodrow Wilson (28th President)
Woodrow Wilson vetoed the Volstead Act – the legislation that enabled Prohibition – but was overridden by Congress. Prohibition was still law when Wilson left office. So when he wanted to move his wine cellar from the White House (it was not illegal to own alcohol, just to sell or trade it) to a private home on S Street in Washington, D.C., treasury agents came in to inventory the contents. What’s left of Wilson’s wine cellar is on display at the Woodrow Wilson House in Washington, D.C., now a museum.
Franklin D. Roosevelt (32nd president)
Many people refer to FDR as the greatest drinking president of all time for two reasons, according to Brown. First, he apparently enjoyed a wide range of alcoholic beverages and even introduced other world leaders to the charm of dry martinis. The other reason? He helped repeal Prohibition. Brown offers a recipe for a dry martini, such as FDR might have enjoyed.
Dry Martini (2:1)
2 ounces gin
1 ounce dry vermouth
Combine gin and vermouth with ice, stir until chilled. Even though many recipes suggest it, I recommend you skip adding the olive brine and just use good gin and freshly opened vermouth. Garnish with lemon peel and chilled olive.
Dwight Eisenhower (34th president)
Eisenhower was a bourbon drinker. According to Brown, he once escaped his security detail and hid out at the Tabard Inn in Washington, D.C., drinking bourbon with his wife, Mamie. The Tabard Inn, from which Brown got the story, is the oldest continuously run inn in Washington, D.C.
John F. Kennedy (35th president)
“Politicos lamented when JFK entered office,” says Brown. “Not because of his politics, but because he drank daiquiris and, when each new president enters office, the trends change alongside his personal preferences. So traditional Bourbon drinkers now felt obliged to order the Cuban concoction.” Interesting choice for the president on duty during the Cuban missile crisis.
2 ounces rum
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce rich simple syrup (2:1 instead of 1:1 sugar to water)
Combine ingredients and shake with ice until cold. Strain into chilled cocktail glass.
Barack Obama (44thpresident)
While holding his drink cards close to the vest, Brown does offer some insight into the current president’s drinking preferences: “I suppose President Obama is best known for brewing his own beer at the White House,” he says. “When I was honored to be invited to mix drinks at the White House in 2009, I created the following cocktail for the occasion. While I won’t reveal what the president drinks (ensuring my own second term), I will say he announced to the guests that the cocktails were delicious.”
The Robert Frost Cocktail
¾ ounces bourbon
¾ ounce dry amontillado sherry
¾ ounces white port
½ ounce simple syrup (optional)
Dash orange bitters
Thin orange slice
Combine ingredients and shake with ice until cold. Strain into chilled cocktail glass and add orange slice and lemon wheel.