President and their favorite wines.
Thomas Jefferson will always be regarded as the First Father of Wine in the United States’. His diplomatic travels to Southern France and the Italy instilled in him a lifelong passion for European fine wine.
Jefferson’s favorite wines appear to have been top-quality vintages of Bordeaux, Burgundy and Sauternes. The third president also had high praise for white Hermitage, reportedly naming it ‘the first wine in the the world without single exception’.
Let’s honor our presidents, meaning all of them- even those I don’t really like, and take a look at what they were drinking while in the White House.
Just a little background first: the White House, being one of the seats of government here in the U.S., has a policy of serving domestic wines which dates back to the Kennedy days. At least that’s when they began to serve domestic wine in addition to the usual suspects from France.
President Washington was a big spender when it came to booze. How big? Over $6,000 from September 1775 to March 1776, mostly on Madeira. A fortified wine produced on the Portuguese island of Madeira in the eastern Atlantic, in the eighteenth century madeira was common in Britain and particularly popular in the American colonies.
A Polish nobleman noted that when there were houseguests at Mount Vernon, Washington “loves to chat after dinner with a glass of Madeira in his hand.” Washington’s step-granddaughter Nelly later recalled that, “After dinner” Washington “drank 3 glasses of madeira.”
Jefferson was an intellectual of the highest order and his approach to wine was totally in character. When he laid out his home, the famed Monticello, Jefferson built not only a cider room, he also built a 17.5 by 15 ft wine cellar to hold all his amassed purchases. And even beyond that, Jefferson was a pioneer in planting
European wine grapes here in the states. He didn’t live to see them successfully produce wine, but he planted the seeds of an industry.
Adams loved alcohol, starting almost every morning with a hard cider. Then porter beer, rum and copious amounts of Madeira. He also once attempted to use his diplomatic immunity bring in 500 bottles of French Bordeaux without paying taxes, failing, and then making Jefferson do it for him.
Champagne may have been among his favorites, but he once advised guests that it “was the most delightful wine when drank in moderation, but that more than a few glasses always produced a headache the next day.”
A small scandal occurred during Monroe’s stint in the Executive Mansion when 1,200 bottles of Burgundy and Champagne from France were charged to an account that Congress had earmarked for furniture.
John Quincy Adams
There are some claims that JQA once conducted a blind taste test of 14 different kinds of Madeira and correctly identified 11 of them.
When he wasn’t fighting Indians or the British, the Hero of New Orleans made and sold whiskey. He offered and drank whiskey as a matter of social routine when guests visited him.
Martin Van Buren
Drank so much whiskey that it earned him a nickname, “Blue Whiskey Van.” He also loved champagne and had a French chef.
William Henry Harrison
William H. Harrison did not drink at all — he completely abstained from alcohol throughout his life.
Tyler was another president who loved champagne. In a letter to his daughter, Tyler recorded a dinner visit to President and Mrs. Madison, noting: “They have good drink . . . Champagne . . . of which you know I am very fond.”
James K. Polk
Polk drank very modest amounts of wine, Champagne, and brandy.
Zachary Taylor abstained from alcohol addiction. During the Mexican War, a political aide reportedly visited to inform Taylor that the Whig party wished to nominate him for president. Taylor allegedly replied: “Stop your nonsense and drink your whiskey!”
Fillmore rarely drank wine or served it to others. However, this lightweight once admitted to sampling enough old Madeira that he was “slightly fuddled.”
Pierce drank a lot of everything and died of cirrhosis of the liver at age 65. When Democrats failed to support him for re-election in 1856, he allegedly said: “What can an ex-president of the United States do except get drunk?”
A friend of his once wrote: “The Madeira and sherry that he has consumed would fill more than one old cellar.” Much like Thomas Jefferson, Buchanan served abroad as a diplomat and later as secretary of state, giving him the opportunity to sample some of Europe’s finest wines. And after returning home to America, this life-long bachelor definitely knew how to throw a party, purchasing nearly three hundred bottles of wine and 150 bottles of champagne for just one event.
One of our driest presidents, he rarely if ever drank.
Lincoln and other political big shots were appalled when Johnson showed up loaded (and slurring his words) for his vice presidential inauguration in 1865; he had tried to treat a cold with whiskey.
Ulysses S. Grant
When Grant did drink, he did not do it well. He reportedly suffered from low tolerance. In office, one of Grant’s White House entertaining bills included $1,800 for Champagne alone.
Grant gargled with wine laced with cocaine to relieve the pain of throat cancer brought on by decades of cigars and snuff.
Rutherford B. Hayes
His wife, “Lemonade Lucy,” pushed for a no-booze White House. Staffers sympathetic to visitors that might want some alcohol tried to infuse some oranges in the punch with rum — but Hayes claims to have discovered the ploy and substituted rum flavoring for the real stuff!
A friend of Garfield’s — Thomas Donaldson — once noted in his diary that: “Garfield . . . liked beer and drank but little else.”
Chester A. Arthur
When a representative of the Temperance movement tried to pressure Arthur into a no-liquor policy in the White House, he thundered: “Madam, I may be the president of the United States, but what I do with my private life is my own damned business!” In particular was his collection of Madeira. Only these bottles allegedly came from South Carolina’s Charleston Jockey Club, where wealthy southerners fearing General Sherman’s “March to the Sea” hid their best and rarest bottles from Yankee destruction.
Grover mostly drank beer, and lots of it. He and a fellow politician once took a vow to hold themselves to four beers a day. When they found this too arduous a task, they simply switched to larger beer steins.
Benjamin leaned more toward God than Demon Alcohol.
A drink popular during his election campaign was called McKinley’s Delight:
3 oz. rye whiskey (shoot for at least 100 proof)
1 oz. sweet vermouth
2 dashes of cherry brandy
Teddy liked Mint Juleps and used them to entice his cabinet to come play tennis with him at the White House. He used fresh mint from the White House garden:
10 to 12 fresh mint leaves “muddled” with a splash of water and a sugar cube
2 or 3 oz. of rye whiskey
¼ oz. of brandy
Sprig or two of fresh mint as a garnish
William Howard Taft
Because of his size, people might assume the 300-pound-plus Taft drank a lot. He did not, especially when he was in the White House and was trying to lose weight. He did, on occasion, celebrate with a glass of Champagne.
Wilson loved Scotch. His campaign song — “Wilson! That’s All!” — actually came from a brand of whiskey that was popular early in the 20th century.
Warren G. Harding
Even though Harding was president during Prohibition — and it was unlawful to transport liquor — he habitually stashed a bottle of whiskey in his golf bag and thought nothing of taking a pop before he teed up. (He rarely broke 100, so that might explain it.)
Hoover supposedly had a fantastic wine collection, but his wife allegedly dumped it down the drain when Prohibition hit. While suffering from pneumonia at the age of 80, he did have one request — a good, dry martini.
“Silent Cal” drank very little, but he was very fond of Tokay wine. The Coolidge Cooler was concocted by Vermont Spirits on Cal’s birthday:
1.5 oz. of Vermont White vodka
½ oz. of American whiskey
2 oz. of orange juice
Franklin D. Roosevelt
FDR is most associated with cocktails. He enjoyed mixing gin-based martinis (and occasionally whiskey-based Manhattans). His favorite thing to sip while sailing was the Bermuda Rum Swizzle:
2 oz. dark rum
1 oz. lime juice
1 oz. orange juice
1 generous dash of Falernum (a sweet syrup)
Truman loved bourbon and quite often knocked down a shot of it in the morning; part of his routine that also involved a brisk walk and a rubdown. He also liked a very strong Old Fashioned and would complain if his staff made it too weak.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Because of several heart attacks (probably due to his habitual chain-smoking), Ike was limited to just a few drinks by his doc. He typically chose Scotch, and sometimes would overrule his doctor and have a second one.
John F. Kennedy
JFK drank lots of different stuff, so it’s hard to pick a favorite. Some were trendy drinks of the rich — daiquiris, Bloody Marys, and (considered at the time a big deal because it was imported) Heineken beer.
Lyndon B. Johnson
LBJ loved Scotch whiskey and enjoyed driving (at high speeds) around his Texas ranch while drinking it out of a plastic cup.
Nixon was known to love wine and in particular the Bordeaux first growths and German wines from the Bernkasteller Doktor vineyard. The Bordeaux tended to be expensive and in a move we can all admire, Nixon economized by serving lesser wine to his guests while drinking, according to lore, Chateaux Margaux from a napkin-covered bottle kept out of sight. To this day, people continue to refer to someone “pulling a Nixon” when they keep the good stuff hidden.
Ford grew accustomed to a few martinis, sometimes even at lunch, when he was in the House of Representatives. When he became president in the aftermath of Watergate, Ford’s staff had to suggest he cut back.
Carter drank very sparingly. When he had an arms summit with Soviet leaders, Carter arranged to get a very small glass of white wine for the obligatory toasts — so he could avoid downing powerful Russian vodka.
Californian Ronald Reagan really transformed the White House wine service, thoroughly and enthusiastically embracing the best of California for all state affairs.
Reagan is even credited with serving the first Zinfandel in the White House, a Boeger from El Dorado County, though it was well known that his favorite wine was Beaulieu’s George de la Tour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Rumor has it that Reagan served this wine to many famous politicians and celebrities who eventually became ardent fans of the California classic.
As a scholar at Oxford, Clinton reportedly indulged in the Snakebite:
8 oz. hard cider
8 oz. lager beer
(Add ¼ oz. black currant liqueur for a Snakebite variation the Brits
George W. Bush
Bush “retired” from drinking years before he became president.
The current president likes beer. The Executive Mansion also features White House Honey Ale (with honey from the White House hives) for special guests.
Notable Founding Fathers
Was Ben Franklin a booze hound? I’m pretty sure he was some kind of hound, so booze hound might not be much of a stretch. As evidence, I’ll resort to the lowest form of proof, using his own words!
“Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance.”
“When Wine enters, out goes the Truth.”
“Never spare the Parson’s wine, nor the Baker’s pudding.”
“Wine is sure proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”
“Take counsel in wine, but resolve afterwards in water.”
Founding Fathers and the bill for a party
The total amount of alcohol for the celebration party for the 55 drafters of the US Constitution was for 54 bottles of Madeira, 60 bottles of claret, 8 bottles of whiskey, 22 bottles of port, 8 bottles of hard cider, 12 beers and seven bowls of alcohol punch large enough that “ducks could swim in them.”