President Obama has garnered a lot of attention lately with the so-called ‘Beer Summit’ at the White House, between himself, Harvard professor Henry Gates Jr., and sergeant James Crowley of the Cambridge, Mass. Police Department. The story between these three is well documented by every major news outlet in the country, so rehashing it here seems redundant to me. My interest in this stems from the President using beer as the medium to sort out their differences, and that has caused me to do some research into other spirits of the Oval Office. What have been the preferred beverages of some of our notable Commanders in Chief?
George Washington (1789-1797) was regarded as the most successful whiskey producer in the country after his tenure of President was over. His Mount Vernon distillery produced 11,000 gallons of Rye Whiskey per year, but within a decade of his death, it fell into disrepair. Washington was also known to have dined and drank whiskey at Charleston, South Carolina’s famous McCrady’s Tavern in 1791, during his Southern Tour.
Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) is regarded today as one of the healthiest early American presidents, and also the foremost wine connoisseur to have ever held office. According to a letter to an inquiring doctor in 1819, he would drink 3 to 4 glasses of wine at dinner, but never a drop otherwise. He wrote that he did not drink ardent wines or spirits, and he would also water down his wine so as to weaken its effect on him.
Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865) was born into a bourbon family; His father was a distillery hand at the site that Knob Creek bourbon is named after today (in a distillery that was owned by one of Daniel Boone‘s relatives, no less!). Reaching adult hood, he applied for and received a license to sell alcohol in Illinois, and went on to operate numerous taverns. Despite the taverns and a grocery store that sold primarily whiskey, his personal stance on alcohol was one of educated, responsible drinking in moderation. As for his personal tastes, it’s hard to figure out because he spent a good portion of his political career appeasing the Temperance group, which eventually evolved into the Prohibition group.
Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945) was the president to end Prohibition, and also an amateur bartender himself. When he had guests at the White House, he would often mix drinks himself, and his personal favorite was a Plymouth gin martini with an olive and a twist.
John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) practically created a culture himself, when he put his presidential stamp of approval on the famed Cuban daiquiri. After it became known that this was his favorite beverage, its popularity grew to rival that of the martini. Accentuating his ironic tastes, he was also a delighted smoker of Cuban cigars.
Richard Nixon (1969-1974) followed in JFK’s footsteps and opted for a drink that could possibly be considered controversial by some conservative elements at the time, and that was the Cuba Libre, better known in the United States as the rum and coke.
Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) is hailed by many as the greatest conservative president of the 20th century, and is credited with being partially responsible for the fall of the Soviet Union. He was not a big drinker, but his cocktail of choice was a weakened Orange Blossom (2 parts gin, 1 part orange juice, 1tsp fine sugar, garnished with an orange slice).
Bill Clinton (1993-2001) has been under fire for years about a possible drinking problem, and he has been photographed at a DNC party drinking Coors Light (which begs a whole new series of related questions, if you ask me). According to several reports, his drink of choice is a Snakebite. The original Snakebite recipe called for a shot of tequila with a shot of Tabasco hot sauce. However, it is believed that he preferred a different version made up of Stout and hard apple Cider. The basis of this theory is that this is a popular concoction in England, where he spent a good deal of time as a student.
Barack Obama (2009-) is a fan of beer, as has already been implied at the beginning of this article, but in addition to that, he also favors the Margarita as his cocktail of choice. This drink seemed to be his standard order at one of his favorite Chicago restaurants, Topolobampo, which he frequently dined at as a Senator.
While this is not a complete breakdown of every American president’s drinking habits, it does show to me the evolution of popular alcohol in America. Beginning with rye whiskey, then moving on to wine and bourbon until we hit the beginning of the specialized cocktail. Gin martinis popular with FDR then evolved into Caribbean and Latin influenced exotic drinks such as the daiquiri, rum and coke, and margarita. There was even what many spirited enthusiasts may call a “girly drink” in the White House, in the Orange Blossom that was preferred by Reagan! I wonder how George Washington and Abe Lincoln would have fared if they offered whiskey and bourbon to Kennedy, Reagan, and Obama. And I wonder how the latter would have fared if they offered a frozen daiquiri and a margarita to those stalwarts of American distilleries. Oh, how the times do change!