A snootful with the presidents

Like clockwork every four years we regular consumers of adult beverages do so either to toast a new administration, drown our sorrows, or maybe just to count our blessings and celebrate the nonviolent transfer of power. Regardless, this calls to mind trivia tidbits about U.S. presidents and alcohol.

George Washington 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 profitable. Washington’s distillery at Mount Vernon has been recreated on the original foundation, is fully functional, and offers an interesting excursion to the historically minded booze-tourist.

According to Mark Will-Weber, in his fascinating 2014 book,  “Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt: The Complete History of Presidential Drinking”, James Monroe, the fifth president, weathered a small scandal after 1,200 bottles of Burgundy and Champagne were charged to a White House account that Congress had established for furniture.

Will-Weber notes that 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.

Martin Van Buren, the eighth president, was so adept at drinking without stumbling while campaigning in the Hudson Valley that he earned the nickname “Blue Whiskey Van.”

Franklin Pierce, the 14th president, was a heavy drinker who eventually succumbed at age 64 to cirrhosis of the liver. 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 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 in Washington. One can go view what’s left of that collection at the Woodrow Wilson House museum in Washington.

Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th president, was mostly a Scotch whisky man, and was said to enjoy drinking it out of a plastic cup while driving very fast around his Texas ranch in his Lincoln Continental.

A known fan of the martini,  38th president, Gerald Ford, in a 1978 speech to the National Restaurant Association, 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?”

President Donald Trump is said to eschew alcohol, joining the ranks of other personally dry and mostly-dry presidents like Lincoln, Millard Fillmore (13th president), Rutherford B. Hayes (19th), Jimmy Carter (39th), and George W. Bush (43rd).

As I contemplate all this, I do so over a glass of wine from Ernie Weir’s Hagafen Cellars, whose wines are frequently served at White House dinners on occasions when kosher wine is required. Hagafen Cellars 2013 Cabernet Franc ($39): This is a lovely, refined and impressive medium-bodied wine with aromas and flavors of black cherry, ripe plum, dried currant, and savory chocolate, with spice and cedar wood, and then a wonderful, complex finish. Softening but noticeable tannins and lively acidity make this one to hold for a few more years at least, but enjoyable now with a hearty, meaty meal. L’chaim!

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