Want to drink like a Founding Father? Try a Portuguese wine
FARGO — The Fourth of July is one of the biggest beer-drinking holidays in the country, but if you really want to celebrate America's history, put down the Bud Light and consider a fortified wine from the Portuguese Madeira Islands off the coast of Africa.
Or perhaps raise a glass of Philadelphia Fish House Punch. Or if you really want to start a revolution in your head and stomach, consider a Rattle Skull.
While America may have been settled by Puritans, our nation's spirited history overflows with alcoholic influences. After all, tea wasn't the only drink downed at the Boston Tea Party.
"There was definitely drinking in a tavern before the Boston Tea Party," says Evan Christie. "You can imagine a lot of that plan was hatched in a tavern."
Christie is a manager at Bridgeview Liquors in Moorhead, Minn., where he also offers the occasional classes on the history of spirits. He recently discussed drinking in Colonial America and offered samples of what was served.
"It was a very bibulous time," he says. "People drank more then. We're the most abstinent generation in terms of drinking."
He's not just spouting off. The average colonist quaffed about seven gallons of alcohol a year. Today, the average American — if such a thing exists — consumes two gallons of booze in 12 months.
One of the main reasons for more drinking then was that potable water was harder to come by and booze was simply safer. Safer, but perhaps a bit more adventurous by today's standards.
Take the Rattle Skull — if you dare. It's a glass of porter with a shot of rum dropped in, lime juice, brown sugar and nutmeg to garnish.
A dark porter and the richness of rum sound good together, but lime and nutmeg?
"The lime kind of throws you, but adding that squeeze of lime makes the drink less heavy." Christie says.
"You have to put yourself in the historical drinking context," he says. "That one is a little less inviting to the modern palate."
There weren't big breweries at the time, so ale and beers weren't as available as punches and few of the fruity cocktail were as popular as Philadelphia Fish House Punch, Christie says. He makes his by rolling lemon peels in sugar and letting them sit for a bit to release the citrus oils, a process called oleo-saccharum. Then, he dissolves the sugar in water or tea and adds rum, cognac, apple brandy and peach liqueur before chilling and serving.
The drink was a favorite of revolutionaries and enjoyed by George Washington.
"Apparently he liked it so much he couldn't make a journal entry for three days," Christie says. The first president had a fondness for spirits and started a whiskey distillery on his estate, Mount Vernon, which became one of the biggest in the country at the time. He also enjoyed Madeira, which flowed readily at his inauguration in 1789. In 1793, he had two pipes (about 126 gallons each) of the wine sent to Mount Vernon and the order was repeated the second year, according to www.mountvernon.org.
Washington wasn't the only Founding Father to tip a few back. Thomas Jefferson's importation of wines was legendary, and his wine cellar was about 200 square feet.
Washington's vice president, John Adams, was a worthy successor as a drinker.
"Adams loved alcohol, starting almost every morning with a hard cider," The New York Post reported when listing each president's favorite drink in a 2014 article. "Then porter beer, rum and copious amounts of Madeira."