In the United States, we enjoy a wealth of opportunities to celebrate our country. The Fourth of July is the most obvious patriotic drinking day, but why not raise a glass on other occasions? More serious national remembrances like Memorial Day and 9/11 certainly call for a toast, as do Election Day and Presidents’ Day. As a history buff as well as an aficionado of adult beverages, I love to ponder our Founding Fathers and their preferences.
Arguably the most famous tippler in American history is Thomas Jefferson. Renowned both for his expensive tastes and prodigious thirst, Jefferson loved Bordeaux and Sauternes, gravitating in particular to Chateau Haut Brion and Chateau d’Yquem. His love of wine led him to plant European Vitis vinifera wine grapes at his Monticello estate in Virginia. Those meticulous, painstaking efforts did not pay off then, but the state’s wine industry has come a long way since! Jefferson’s wine knowledge was so respected that he was appointed the official wine advisor to presidents Washington, Madison, and Monroe.
George Washington was another thirsty Virginian, and the man could really throw down. He is famous for a great many accomplishments, but one of the legendary achievements that does not show up in our schoolbooks involve a 1787 party in Philadelphia’s City Tavern. He and 54 others polished off 54 bottles of Madeira, 60 bottles of claret, 20 bottles of porter, 12 bottles of beer, 8 of hard cider, 8 of whiskey, and 7 large bowls of spiked punch. Washington also maintained a whiskey distillery at Mount Vernon that at one time was the nation’s largest.
John Adams was no slouch himself. At the age of 40 he partied six hours a night for seven straight weeks with the (mostly) younger men of the Continental Congress. Beer, cider, Madeira, wine, and whiskey were all in play. His second cousin Sam Adams became the namesake of a popular beer for a reason; the man was well-known in the taverns of Boston and threw some epic parties himself.
I know, I know. Considering all this consumption, one wonders how these upstart colonials ever managed to write the Declaration of Independence, win the Revolutionary War, write the Constitution and build a grand new nation. First of all, they, like all of us, had to stay hydrated, and alcoholic beverages were much safer than water, which at the time was loaded with bacteria. Secondly, public houses were incubators of ideas and alliances, as well as thousands of ounces of liquid courage. It could be argued, then, that not only did the Founders’ drinking habits not hinder their revolutionary pursuits, they may actually have helped!