Presidential Drinks

When I was a kid, we used to get two 3-day weekends, as we celebrated both Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays. Now we get one 3-day weekend, and not much discussion about the leaders of the United States. So, I thought it might be fun to dig up some little tidbits of information, about the president’s drinking “habits”.

Wine has been with us since the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock. There are even stories that they landed at the first available spot, because they were out of alcohol…who really knows? What we do know, is that our founding fathers saw fit to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence with "50 bottles of Madeira, 60 bottles of Claret, and 22 bottles of Port". In fact, the seizure of a cargo load of Madeira, from John Hancock’s sloop, predates the Boston Tea Party.

Wine from Jefferson's Cellar
As for each of the U.S. Presidents, many were known for their drinking habits. It is well documented that Thomas Jefferson was a wine aficionado. As ambassador to France, he developed a keen understanding and appreciation of French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese wines. But French Bordeaux and Madeira seem to have been his favorites. Jefferson is responsible for stocking the wine cellars of the first five Presidents. One of my favorite presidential wine quotes is from Thomas Jefferson: "No nation is drunken where wine is cheap, and none sober where the dearness of wine substitutes ardent spirits as the common beverage. Wine brightens the life and thinking of anyone."

Andrew Jackson was known to drink rye whiskey straight, but liked to serve “Daniel Webster’s Punch” at White House functions. The punch consisted of lemons, sugar, green tea, brandy, claret, champagne, bananas, orange pineapples, cherries and strawberries….basically, “Jungle Juice”.

Martin VanBuren was known to drink for days and not show any signs of being intoxicated, so his friends gave him the nickname "Blue Whiskey Van." In fact, during the 1840 Presidential election, William Henry Harrison's campaign painted Van Buren as an alcoholic, which contributed to him losing the election, or could it have been that during his campaign, the hard cider flowed so freely, that Harrison became known as the “Hard Cider Candidate"?

The only bachelor to occupy the White House was James Buchanan. His inauguration must have been quite a party. The shopping list shows guests were served 400 gallons of oysters, 500 quarts of chicken salad, 500 quarts of jellies, 1,200 quarts of ice cream, eight rounds of beef, 75 hams, 60 saddles of mutton and four of venison. Plus, he had a $3,000 wine budget. Not bad for those days!

Ulysses S. Grant
Follow that with Abraham Lincoln, and you have a true contrast. It is noted that Lincoln really didn’t even care much for food. He liked bacon, apples and coffee. But when it came to his Civil War General (and future president), Ulysses S. Grant, There was another stark contrast. Grant was known as a heavy drinker, but also a fierce fighter. When Lincoln was confronted with Grant’s excessive drinking, he is reported to have said, "If drinking makes fighting men like Grant, then find out what he drinks, and send my other commanders a case!”

Chester A. Arthur’s favorite meal was a mutton chop with a glass of ale, or a slice of rare roast beef with hot baked potatoes and fruits. Accompanying this was a glass of claret.

Theodore Roosevelt had a sweet tooth and usually used as many as seven lumps of sugar in his coffee. His biggest gourmet interest was exotic tea. He was not fond of alcohol.

William Howard Taft joined with the temperance movement, and drank "simmon beer," a drink brewed from persimmons.

John F. Kennedy's inaugural dinners emphasized American specialties: crab gumbo, lobster Newburg, even tuna salad. But at formal dinners, classic French cuisine reigned supreme. President Kennedy was known to enjoy cold beer, while Mrs. Kennedy drank daiquiris.

Richard Nixon, was known to serve wines from California (probably the first president to do so), but he still preferred French Bordeaux, and was known to have a secret bottle of Ch√Ęteau Margaux at his tableside, while his guests were served something less spectacular. When it came to his famous toast with the Chinese, he served a 1969 California Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc. But in private, he toasted Henry Kissinger with a 1961 Chateau Lafite.

Nixon set the precedent for American Sparkling wine. Reagan and George H.W. Bush poured Sonoma's Iron Horse while ending the Cold War with Gorbachev. And, Chandon, Gloria Ferrer, Roederer Estate, and even Gruet have been added to the rotation of the White House cellar.

Boeger, in El Dorado County, likes to note they were the first Zinfandel served in the White House. It was under Reagan. But, a June 1, 1984, Washington Post article said Reagan's favorite wine was actually Beaulieu Vineyard (BV) Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

Barack Obama is no exception to drinks in the White House. On the heels of his "beer summit" in July 2009  he poured Domaine Chandon's sparkling wine (Blanc de Noirs) at all state dinners and other White House events.

With all this talk of wine, did you know that Bourbon is the official spirit of the United States, by an act of Congress? And, it is said that the national anthem of the US, the "Star-Spangled Banner," was written to the tune of a drinking song. Can't say I know that drinking song.

So there you have a little history of the drinks of our country’s leadership. I’ll leave you with one more Thomas Jefferson quote. “I think it is a great error to consider a heavy tax on wines as a tax on luxury.  On the contrary, it is a tax on the health of our citizens.” Boy, you gotta love Jefferson….and his birthday isn’t until April 13th…right at tax time.


  1. Who is the sommelier today at the White House ?

    1. Ambassador Capricia Penavic Marshall has taken on that job, but not as a Sommelier.. She is Chief of Protocol for the United States, and works with State Department chefs Jason Larkin and Chris James, to pick out the dishes and beverages served at white house functions.