Raise a Presidential Glass

Raise a Presidential Glass

A Journey into the drinking habits of some of our nation’s leaders

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Whether in celebration or sorrow, those of us who enjoy our tipple most likely raised a glass — or two or three or more — over the recent inauguration of the 45th President of the United States.

Indeed, like clockwork every four years, we consumers of adult beverages do so either to toast the new administration or to drown our sorrows. Maybe even to count our blessings and celebrate the non-violent transition of power. With President’s Day upon us, we consider trivia tidbits about presidents and alcohol.

George Washington, the nation’s first president, was, for example, the only founding father to run a commercial whiskey distillery. Indeed, it was the largest distillery in the country (producing 11,000 gallons of whiskey in 1799), and it was very profitable. He also had a few foxhounds which he named Drunkard, Tippler, and Tipsy. Washington’s distillery at Mount Vernon, VA, which has been recreated on the original foundation, is fully functional, and offers an interesting excursion to the historically-minded imbiber.

James Monroe, the fifth president, weathered a small scandal after 1,200 bottles of Burgundy and Champagne were charged to an account that congress had established for furniture.

Legend has it that John Quincy Adams, our sixth president, once had a blind taste-test of 14 kinds of Madeira (a strong, sweet, fortified wine from the autonomous Portuguese archipelago of the same name) and correctly identified 11 of them. While Martin Van Buren, the eight president, was so adept at drinking without stumbling while campaigning in Hudson Valley, he earned the nickname “Blue Whiskey Van.”

Franklin Pierce, the 14th president, was a heavy drinker who eventually succumbed to cirrhosis of the liver at age 65. After his re-election efforts failed in 1856, he is alleged to have said: “What can an ex-president of the United States do except get drunk?”

Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president, was a Scotch whisky imbiber, who had the good sense to veto the Volstead Act, the bill that enabled Prohibition, only to have Congress override his veto. Since Prohibition was still in effect when he left office, Wilson had to allow treasury agents to take a complete inventory of his private wine cellar before he was allowed to move it from the White House to his personal residence. One can now view what’s left of that collection at the Woodrow Wilson House museum in Washington, D.C.

Warren G. Harding, the 29th president, apparently kept a bottle of whiskey hidden in his gold bag as a matter of habit and did not hesitate to take a shot before each game—despite Prohibition.

Harry Truman, the 33rd president, was a bourbon whiskey fan, and was known to include a shot of it as part of his morning routine. He was also known as a fan of the Old Fashioned cocktail, and liked it especially strong, and whenever staff made it too weak, he did not hesitate to complain.

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president, was personally fairly “dry,” but his wife Mary was one of the first to include domestic wines at White House functions.

JFK, the 35th president, had a fondness for lots of drinks, including daiquiris, Bloody Mary’s, Heineken beer, and he also enjoyed high-end French wines—as did Nixon, the 37th president. Indeed, Tricky Dick reportedly instructed his staff to serve mediocre quality red wine to guests while he drank bottles of Chateau Margaux (guests were supposedly served from bottles with towels wrapped around the label to disguise the distinction).

After surviving the second assassination attempt on his life on September 22, 1975 in San Francisco (the first unrelated attempt was September 5 in Sacramento), Gerald Ford, the 38th president, boarded Air Force One, pounded several stiff martinis, inhaled a steak, and then slept off most of his return trip to DC. A few years later, in a 1978 speech to the National Restaurant Association, he famously quipped: “The three-martini lunch is the epitome of American efficiency. Where else can you get an earful, a bellyful, and a snootful at the same time?”

LBJ, the 36th president, was unsurprisingly mostly a Scotch whisky man, and was said to enjoy drinking it out of a plastic cup while driving fast around his Texas ranch. Johnson also established the general custom that official White House functions serve domestic wines, paving the way eventually for Ronald Reagan, the 40th president, who mostly drank California wines, to serve the first zinfandel at a state affair.

Trump is said to eschew alcohol, joining the ranks of other personally “dry” and mostly-dry presidents like Lincoln, James K. Polk (11th president), Millard Fillmore (13th president), Rutherford B. Hayes (19th president), Benjamin Harrison (23rd president), William Taft (27th president), Jimmy Carter (39th president), and George W. Bush (43rd president)—at least by the time he became president.

L’Chaim!

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