Since moving to the United States from Britain, I have discovered that Thanksgiving means eating turkey, Independence Day is celebrated with lavish fireworks displays paid for by department stores, and Easter is an excuse to eat lots of chocolate eggs. However, I haven’t found anyone that can tell me how to celebrate Presidents’ Day.
The holiday, of course, commemorates the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. On a recent visit to Mount Vernon, Washington’s Virginia estate, I discovered that he had a taste for fine punches and distilled his own whiskey. He may have been the country’s first commander-in-chief drinker but not the last.
Franklin Roosevelt guzzled Martinis, Richard Nixon drank Cuba Libres (you have to love the irony), and Gerald Ford enjoyed the odd Gin & Tonic. Woodrow Wilson, who was president during the enactment of Prohibition, stashed away supplies so that he could mix his favorite libations in secret while the rest of the nation settled for bathtub gin and moonshine.
It’s fair to say the proper way to celebrate Presidents’ Day (and the long weekend) is with cocktails. These are a few historic drinks to get you started.
This combination of dark rum, dry vermouth, orange juice and sugar looks like an El Presidente by way of the Bronx—which, in the case of Theodore Roosevelt, who was born and raised in NYC, is only a few miles removed from actual history.
2. McKinley's Delight
This Manhattan-leaning mixture of rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, cherry liqueur and absinthe was first stirred up in 1896 at the bar at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City, according to drinks historian David Wondrich, who also calls it "one of the finest presidential cocktails." Try it for yourself and see.
3. Betsy Ross
This cocktail first appeared in print in 1941, in Crosby Gaige’s "Cocktail Guide and Ladies’ Companion," according to the late bartender and drinks writer Gary "Gaz" Regan, who called it "a darned good quaff." Equal parts brandy and ruby port form the backbone of the drink, with orange curaçao lending a hand and Angostura bitters rounding it all out.
4. Lincoln Club Cooler
Like a lighter and more refreshing version of a Dark ’n Stormy, this rum-and-ginger-ale highball, adapted by distiller and drinks pro Simon Ford, the founder of Fords Gin, from George J. Kappeler's 1895 cocktail book “Modern American Drinks,” combines two familiar flavors into one easy-to-make drink.
5. El Presidente
This cocktail, created in the early 1900s in Cuba, was actually named for a president of that country, but don't let that stop you from drinking it in honor of American presidents, too. It combines white rum, dry vermouth, orange curaçao and grenadine to produce a delightful and festively hued drink.
6. Dirty Martini
The act of adding muddled olives to martinis dates to at least 1901, often popularly attributed to New York bartender John O’Connor. But perhaps one of its most famous proponents was the U.S. president who presided over Prohibition's repeal: Franklin D. Roosevelt. Famous for his cocktail parties, which he dubbed "The Children's Hour," F.D.R. was know for his martini experiments. One of his favorite inclusions? A splash of olive brine.