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Brandy or Beer? A History of Drinking in the White House

Kirti Poddar


The 2009 “beer summit” was probably the most famous pouring of alcohol at the White House in recent years. But, what were the drinking habits of our past commanders in chief?

We pose that question to journalist Mark Will-Weber author of the book, "Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt: The Complete History of Presidential Drinking.”

Mark starts off by telling us what Washington liked to drink:

“George Washington liked a lot of different things, among his favorite were madeira wine, he loved champagne, and he also really liked this special porter beer, dark beer, that was brewed with molasses.”

Jefferson has a more refined taste for alcoholic drinks:

“ It is not out of line to call him the first father of American wine. Jefferson actually had the opportunity to visit a lot of the best vineyards in France and northern Italy and kept meticulous notes about it.”

Franklin Pierce qualifies as an alcoholic by Weber since Pierce died of cirrhosis of the liver. Abraham Lincoln was very involved with whiskey as a young man, with both producing and selling.

During the time period of prohibition, Warren Harding snuck fifths of whiskey throughout his term. Andrew Johnson arrived at his vice-president inauguration appearing as a “drunken sailor.” Richard Nixon was known for "drunk dialing." Ulysses S. Grant gave away his drinking tolerance with a flushed face after one drink.

Changing the gender role in the white house, First Ladies sometimes had an influence with drinking in the White House. “Lemonade Lucy,” Rutherford B. Hayes spouse, did not want any alcohol in the White House after a drunken incident with Russian dukes.

Weber offers some crafty drink recipes for celebrating Presidents day such as the Rumswizzle containing several ounces of rum, lime juice, orange juice, and garnished with orange or pineapple.