Food & Drink

8 crazy stories about presidential drinking

Published On 11/11/2014 Published On 11/11/2014

Bookstores recently got a new guide to executive boozing in the form of Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt: The Complete History of Presidential Drinking. We decided to check out Mark Will-Weber's book ourselves for some of the headiest, most interesting tales of commander-in-chief cocktail parties, and we were not disappointed. These eight stories were our favorites, but if you're dying to hear the dirt on all 43 presidents (Millard Fillmore's temperance pledge is a doozy), make sure to get a copy yourself. In the meantime, here's all the presidential bathtub gin that's fit to print:

Monroe was into a a truly lethal punch

While he was visiting Savannah in 1819, James Monroe apparently tried Chatham Artillery Punch, which he described at the time as "suave and deceitful". If by "deceitful", he meant "secretly housing enough liquor to knock out an ogre", well, he was right. The recipe calls for 1.5 gallons of scuppernong wine, a 1/2 gallon of rum, 1.5 quarts of rye whiskey, 1 quart of brandy, 1 quart of gin, a 1/2 pint of Bénédictine liqueur, and a case of Champagne. (Plus some tea and fruit.) Clearly, that Chatham Artillery knew how to party.

Jackson's inauguration party was a real rager

When the people's president Andrew Jackson was sworn into office, an estimated crowd of 10,000 to 30,000 swarmed his carriage on the way to the White House (or, as it was called then, the Executive Mansion). And they were not exactly Washington aristocrats. Scruffy and "vulgar" supporters invaded the place, messing up fancy chairs, breaking china, and dipping generously into the spiked punch bowl. In fact, the president's staff had to place buckets of punch and wine outside to get them to go home -- people were soon climbing out of windows to get to that hard stuff, stumbling and screaming, "Huzzah!" all the way out.

Dewar's

Harrison and McKinley kept barrels of Dewar's

Andrew Carnegie, better known as that billionaire whose name is on 1/5 of all institutions in America, was known for sending shipments of Scotch to people he liked. Mark Twain was one enthusiastic recipient, and pretty soon so were Presidents Harrison and McKinley. Carnegie sent them both barrels of Dewar's, giving the presidential liquor cabinet a major boost and the distillery some prime publicity.


Teddy Roosevelt got into a barroom brawl with a cowboy Although TR seems like the kind of guy who drank bourbon for breakfast, the mountain man was by all accounts a moderate drinker. But that didn't stop him from getting into good old-fashioned bar fights, particularly with heckling cowboys. While Roosevelt was visiting a saloon out West, an inebriated rancher started calling him four-eyes and demanding he buy everyone drinks. Teddy stood up calmly, gave the armed dude three swift hits, and then returned to his seat once he was sure the guy was KO'd.
 

Eisenhower made his own bathtub gin

While Ike was stationed at Fort Meade with another military legend, George Patton, the men found creative ways to get around that pesky Prohibition. Patton made some home-brews that may or may not have exploded, while the future prez mixed grain alcohol in a bathtub into bootleg gin. (He also allegedly punched a hole in the wall of a local cafe on a boozy night right after his West Point graduation, but Ike insists his critics exaggerated that tale.)

Imgur/huskermdl

Kennedy's Air Force One crew fed dogs martinis

Well, it was really just the one dog, and it was his brother Bobby's hyperactive black lab. The flight staff was concerned the eager pup would trample important documents and/or interrupt JFK's plays for the lady attendants, so they gave the little guy a martini. He soon drifted off to sleep, dreaming of cocktails garnished with Milk-Bones.

Nixon nearly burned the White House down with Chinese liquor

When Tricky Dick made his famous trip to China, he was introduced to maotai, some potent local booze that typically runs about 110 proof. To demonstrate how loaded the stuff was, Chinese Premier Chou En-lai struck a match over a cup of the liquor to prove it could catch fire. And according to Dr. Henry Kissinger, Nixon recreated this demo for his daughter upon his return... with less success. The saucer containing the maotai broke, lighting the entire table on fire and nearly causing a full-on case of arson.
 

Ronald Reagan refused to be Errol Flynn's drinking buddy

Back in his Hollywood days, Reagan made a movie called Desperate Journey with Errol Flynn. Flynn would frequently invite the cast back to his dressing room for some bourbon, only Ronnie wasn't much of a drinker. So he tried to pour out the booze when no one was looking, but Flynn allegedly caught him, and told him to "go f**ck himself". We're guessing he didn't get a White House Christmas card.

Kristin Hunt is a Food/Drink staff writer for Thrillist, and wonders how Patton's beers tasted, pre-explosion. Follow her to home-brew disasters at @kristin_hunt.

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