America’s first President, like many of the Founding Fathers, was both a drinker and a maker of drinks. In honor of President’s Day, we present five essential booze-filled facts any wine, beer or booze-loving American should know about President George Washington.
Madeira: The First President’s Favorite Drink
Like many other colonial-era and then early Americans, Washington favored Madeira, the fortified wine shipped over from the island for which the drink is named. While Washington and his fellow countrymen enjoyed the taste of Madeira, there was also the simple fact that it was the only easy-to-obtain wine this side of the Atlantic. Over time its popularity would fall, as local breweries, distilleries and eventually vineyards were established, but many people of the day, Washington among them, considered it our de-facto national drink. When it came time to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Madeira was the beverage that filled everyone’s glasses. Washington is said to have finished most evenings off with three glasses of Madeira – quite the nightcap.
Porter (From Philadelphia): The First President’s Favorite Beer
While historians have certainly found more consequential information examining Washington and his staff’s letters and journals, we’ll turn to them for the scoop on his preferences in beer. Washington favored dark beers, and like more than a few of the Founding Fathers who spent time in Philadelphia, he fell in love with the Porters produced by a brewer in that city named Robert Hare. In this letter, Washington’s secretary sought out quite a bit of the brewer’s best to fill the stores at Mount Vernon:
Will you be so good as to desire Mr. Hare to have he continues to make the best Porter in Philadelphia 3 gross of his best put for Mount Vernon as the President means to visit that place in the recess of Congress and it is probably there will be a large demand for Porter at that time.
Sadly, the brewery was lost in a fire that same year, 1790.
George Washington’s Homebrew Recipe
Barack Obama might be the first President to brew beer in the White House, but that’s only because there was no White House when George Washington was around. Yes, our first president was a homebrewer too! Just as you can follow Obama’s recipe for White House Honey Ale, you can brew up a batch of Washington’s low-alcohol “small beer,” as the New York Public Library recovered a copy of the recipe, which is titled ‘To make Small Beer’:
Take a large Sifter full of Bran Hops to your Taste. “” Boil these 3 hours. Then strain out 30 Gallons into a Cooler, put in 3 Gallons Molasses while the Beer is scalding hot or rather drain the molasses into the Cooler & strain the Beer on it while boiling Hot. Let this stand till it is little more than Blood warm. Then put in a quart of Yeast if the weather is very cold, cover it over with a Blanket & let it work in the Cooler 24 hours. Then put it into the Cask “” leave the Bung[hole] open till it is almost done working “” Bottle it that day Week it was Brewed.
The Whiskey Rebellion
The last time George Washington rode into battle it was as President of the United States. In 1791, in an effort to pay off Revolutionary War debts, Alexander Hamilton, then the Treasury Secretary, helped push through America’s first tax on a domestically produced product — targeting all distilled beverages. This quickly became known as the “whiskey tax,” as whiskey was the most popular distilled beverage at the time. In a challenge to the authority of the young Federal government, hundreds of distillers in western Pennsylvania and Kentucky simply ignored the tax. In Pennsylvania, by 1794, the situation had escalated to outright violence — they actually tarred and feathered a tax collector — culminating in the arrival of a 13,000-man militia. While Washington handed control of the force to Henry Lee, the governor of Virginia, he did ride out into the field — the first and last time a sitting American President did so. By the time the militia arrived the rebels had dispersed, and very little blood was shed.
Washington’s Whiskey Distillery
While Washington may have put down the Whiskey Rebellion, he was known to distill America’s favorite brown liquor himself — and not just for personal consumption! With his term as President winding down, Washington collaborated with James Anderson, one of his farm managers at Mount Vernon, to setup a distillery. After some initial successes, including local sales and barters of his whiskey, Washington expanded his enterprise to five copper stills, which produced as much as 12,000 gallons per year at their peak. If you ever visit Mount Vernon, make sure to tour the fully functioning reconstruction of the distillery!