President’s Day is Monday, February 19, but how is one supposed to celebrate this holiday? Give speeches? Poll friends for your approval rating? Veto bills? We say all of the above, but while drinking like a POTUS. Many of our commanders-in-chief had a penchant for libations, so we tasked top Los Angeles bartender Tom Costello with finding modern equivalents of past presidential favorites.
Beats the British (with French help), survives a cabal headed by John Adams to get him ousted mid-war, becomes the first-ever U.S. president, gets a snarky compliment from Napoleon himself, and has a giant bust of his face carved into a mountain. Clearly we’ll have what he’s having. Not to mention that, at one time, he was America’s largest whiskey producer.
What’s he drinking? Rye Whiskey. You can still buy whiskey produced at Mount Vernon, but you’ve got endless options. Costello particularly likes Willett Whiskey, family-owned and operated since 1936, and Catoctin Creek, which is organic and from Washington’s neck of the woods. “While there are many distinctions between rye and bourbon,” Costello explains, “the main thing is … rye is at least 51 percent rye in the mash bill and bourbon at least 51 percent corn; and most of each are well above 90 percent of their main grain. Ryes tend to be leaner, spicier, more herbaceous and floral, while bourbons tend to be sweeter, fuller-bodied, with caramel notes and tea flavors.”
Thomas Jefferson was many things: rebel, lawyer, author of the Declaration of Independence, architect, Secretary of State, president … he’s got too many titles to list (trying to guess a governmental position he didn’t hold makes a great drinking game). Ironically, this constantly-in-debt Renaissance man with a wine habit purchased almost half our country from Napoleon. Maybe after a few glasses?
What’s he drinking? Bellet wine. Our third president imported wines from all over the world, but had a particular taste for Bellet wine, which traditionally hails from Provence and is heavily influenced by neighboring Italy. “For white, it sounds like Jefferson was enjoying the varietal Vermentino (called Rolle in France), which is a pale straw-colored wine with crisp citrus notes and terrific minerality. Perfect with oysters. This wine is traditionally pretty light-bodied,” Costello explains. “California versions can be much more full-bodied … without sacrificing its clean, refreshing characteristics.
“[The Vermentino] grape is making a big comeback in Europe and in the States, so take 10 seconds to learn a new Italian word — think of this wine as an older, cooler cousin to Pinot Grigio who rides a motorcycle and dates college girls,” he adds.
Costello recommends Tablas Creek as a reasonably priced, delicious example. “Tablas Creek is organic, bio-dynamic [and] has the best tour in all of Paso Robles, [California] and lets you blend your own wine a couple times a year.”
Ulysses S. Grant
One of the most badass names of any president (U.S. Grant, anyone?), it’s sadly not an instance of epic nominative determination. He was born Hiram Ulysses Grant; the meaningless “S” was erroneously added by a congressman when appointing Grant to West Point and it stuck. Our 18th president was a much beloved war hero who skipped Ford’s Theatre that fateful night in 1865 to visit his children, a decision that forever haunted him. The former Civil War Union general rejected party politics as president, fought hard for the Fifteenth Amendment, and made attempts to foster peace with Native Americans, a radical idea at the time.
What’s he drinking? Champagne. Well, lots of things really. Costello says, “There are reports of some heavy bills for Champagne from White House parties during his time in office, so in honor of the man whose visage graces the $50 bill, [Gruet Winery] is a top quality bubbly recommendation that won’t cost you nearly that much.” It’s from Albuquerque, New Mexico of all places, but was appropriately founded by a French family in the 1980s. “Their Brut and Blanc du Noirs both come in at under $20 and drink far above that price point,” Costello points out.
This peace-loving guy — our last president to have served in the Civil War — ran on a policy of avoiding war. However, he did a terrible job of that. Siding with the brutally-treated Cuban rebels in their quest for independence, McKinley gave diplomacy the old college try, but ended up giving the Spanish a violent heave-ho off the island after the tragedy of the USS Maine. If you have a deep-seated love of tariffs, this is definitely your guy. McKinley was assassinated at the beginning of his second term in office and succeeded by Theodore Roosevelt.
What’s he drinking? “McKinley’s Delight.” Legend has it, the cocktail was invented during McKinley’s 1896 presidential campaign. Costello gives us a recipe:
- 2 oz rye whiskey (see George Washington for some good options)
- 1 oz sweet vermouth
- 1/2 oz cherry liqueur
- Absinthe rinse
Method: Mix the ingredients and strain into chilled glass of choice. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Hopefully not a ton of context is needed for Obama. His most universally awesome act as president was home-brewing beer. Home, of course, being the White House. He personally purchased the equipment, and using the honey bees on the South Lawn, created the White House Honey Porter and White House Honey Ale. Guests often were able to sample this presidential home brew, but don’t worry if you haven’t gotten your invite yet. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, the recipes were released, so you can make your own.
What’s he drinking? Honey ale. If you’re not into brewing, Costello has some great comparable suggestions: “There is no honey beer marketed from coast to coast in the U.S. In 2015, FiftyFifty Brewing in California won bronze in the Honey Beer category at the Great American Beer Festival with their Spring Fever, while The Tap Brewery out of Bloomington, IN took gold with their Electric Stinger. The World Beer Cup gold for Honey Beer went to Long Sun Brewing out of New Taipei City in Taiwan. Not that the big boys don’t brew honey beers, too. Sam Adams puts out Honey Queen, a blend of mead and beer (called a braggot), but also a honey porter that comes close to the White House style. And Dogfish Head has their antiquity-inspired Midas Touch. Your best bet is hitting up your favorite local brewery or bottle shop.”
Donald J. Trump
What’s he drinking? He doesn’t. Diet Coke is reportedly his favorite drink. Enough said.
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