How to Drink Like a President

We’re celebrating Repeal Day with six presidential cocktail recipes. Who’s got a 12-gallon punch bowl?

Photo: Courtesy "Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt: The Complete History of Presidential Drinking"

Four score and one year ago, Congress repealed the 18th Amendment: Prohibition. After 13 dry years, intoxicating liquors were once again legal for production, sale, and distribution almost everywhere (10 states lagged, including Mississippi, which held out until 1966). It was never illegal to consume, but access is everything. Celebrations began as soon as the repeal was announced. 

In that spirit, we looked to “Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt: The Complete History of Presidential Drinking,” a new book by Mark Will-Weber, to consider commander-in-chief-level cocktails. Then we consulted 25-year industry veteran Eben Freeman for analysis and recipes.  

“Now, more so than any time in history, it is possible to recreate old cocktails,” says Freeman, head of beverage development for the hospitality group AvroKo, which designs and operates hotspots like New York's Saxon and Parole. “Vermouth doesn’t last, but you can actually buy gin from the era on eBay, or from ‘rescued spirits dealers’ like Edgar Harden's Old Spirits Company, and reconstruct with historical accuracy.”

Historical cocktail enthusiasts are concerned with possible flavor differences—recipes haven't changed much, but ingredients have—but if vintage spirits don’t appeal, the variety of liquors and mixers on the market today is still, in Freeman’s words, “something to celebrate.” So stock up on your favorites, or take his suggestions, and toast your freedom to imbibe.

Eisenhower: Gin and Tonic

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Dwight D. Eisenhower was President from 1953 - 1961, when cocktails were king. During Prohibition, however, he was less concerned with law abiding, and more concerned with access to gin. So he made his own, bathtub-style. Freeman says it’s easily made, but "most people were distilling booze in very crude terms, with things like juniper mashed in the awful base." Translation: Grain alcohol needs a deft hand to become a quality beverage. Instead of replicating something terrible, here’s Freeman’s suggestion for a simple classic that's having a heyday, thanks to the renaissance of tonic, and the amazing variety of gin on the market.

Gin and Tonic

1 oz gin (St George Spirits Terroir)

3 oz tonic, to start (Fever-Tree Mediterranean)

Pour gin in a highball glass. Add ice. Stir (to chill gin). Top with tonic. Stir gently. Garnish with lime wheel. Top off with tonic throughout drinking.

Truman: Old Fashioned 

Harry S. Truman, in office from 1945-1953, was a bourbon-for-breakfast guy, enjoying an ounce or so after his morning walk. Unsurprisingly, his initial White House pre-dinner Old Fashioned, made to Roosevelt-era specs, was too weak. The first lady vehemently agreed. The revised recipe eliminated all ingredients but booze and bitters, and received compliments from the couple. Freeman opts for more balance, and notes that Angostura bitters are little changed, which means their flavor will be Truman-appropriate. 

Old Fashioned

1 unbleached sugar cube

club soda

Angostura bitters

2 oz bourbon or rye whiskey (Larceny)

Put sugar cube and a dash of club soda in an Old Fashioned glass. Crush the sugar with a muddler. Add bitters. Add bourbon. Stir. Add ice. Add twist of orange, lemon, or drop of vinegar for a touch of acidity. 

JFK: Daiquiri

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In 1962, in the middle of his presidency (1961-1963) John F. Kennedy imposed a full embargo on Cuba. Ironic, considering the oft-referenced Kennedy daiquiri consumption. A recipe Jackie allegedly gave her kitchen staff is below. Freeman notes that it's unclear whether or not to use a blender (so if you want a slushie, go for it), and says white rum—not dark—would have been preferred in the Cuban hotels and bars Americans would have been visiting before the embargo. His dream daiquiri would be made with pre-embargo Bacardi (the world's first white rum) or Havana Club Silver (no longer produced).

Jackie's Daiquiris

2 parts rum

2 parts frozen limeade

1 part fresh lime juice

dash falernum (a sweet lime and spice syrup or liquor)

Blend all the ingredients together and enjoy!

Reagan: Screwdriver

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Ronald Reagan signed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act into law in 1984. He was 52 years legal (age 73) at the time. Freeman says that during Reagan’s presidency (1981-1989), the American palate favored the sweet, and vodka ruled. (Think Cape Cods and Bay Breezes.) In keeping with the times, the 40th president was known to enjoy the simple screwdriver. Given its dominance in the 80s and its value as a mixing vodka, Freeman recommends using Absolut to really channel Ronnie.  

Screwdriver

1 oz vodka

5 oz orange juice 

Pour vodka and orange juice into highball glass. Add ice. Stir.

Hoover, FDR, Ford, Obama: Martini

After Prohibition, says Freeman, there was more of a preference for hard spirits and less use of vermouth, much to the detriment of the martini, the cocktail of choice of many a president. The book is loaded with James Bond-esque anecdotes: Herbert Hoover (1929-1933) drank a martini made by a nun in a hospital; Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-1945) mixed them in his cloakroom; Barack Obama takes them pre-dinner. And Gerald Ford (1974-1977) was an advocate of the 3-martini lunch—mostly likely served in a 4 or 5 oz glass, says Freeman. “That [size] is a nice way to drink. It stays colder longer.” 

Martini

celery bitters (Bitter Truth)

3 oz gin (Old Raj 55%)

1 oz vermouth (Noilly Prat Ambre)

Put a dash of bitters into a mixing glass. Add gin and vermouth. Add ice. Shake. Strain into martini glass. Garnish with pickled onion. 

Monroe: Punch

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An English tradition carried on by all of our founding fathers, punch is in revival today. “Good punch makers were really revered,” says Freeman, citing military competitions. No need to be intimidated by a large bowl—your drinking habits are already in line. “Cocktails,” says Freeman, “are really small punches.” Here’s one James Monroe (1817-1825) may have sampled during a visit to Savannah in 1819. Yield: A way bigger party than you can fit in your apartment. This recipe, were you to actually stir it up, makes more than six gallons of punch—enough to make more than 100 people quite merry.

Chatham Artillery Punch

1.5 gallons strong tea

1.5 gallons Catawba or scuppernong wine (a sweet red)

1/2 gallons of rum

1.5 quarts of rye whiskey

1 qt of brandy

1 qt of gin

1/2 pint Benedictine

2.5 pounds brown sugar

1 bottle of maraschino cherries

juice of 18 oranges

juice of 18 lemons

case of champagne

First: Pour all ingredients, except for the champagne, into a non-reactive container. Second: Let it rest for a day and a half to two days. Third: Just before the celebration, dump into an extra-large punch bowl or tub over lots of ice, and then add champagne. 

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