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The Surprising Drinking Habits of Our Founding Fathers

The Surprising Drinking Habits of Our Founding Fathers

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My fellow Americans, we live in a time of political gridlock, of discord and intractability within the storied halls of government. Both sides of the aisle will often resurrect our Founding Fathers to beef up their positions, quoting them (or, more often, misquoting them) in support of one thing or another. If you were to believe many politicians, Washington and Jefferson had opinions on topics ranging from internet surveillance to legalizing pot. No matter how you interpret the framers’ intentions, the fact is that our current political machine is a rusty junker that’s ground to a halt. Perhaps now, on our nation’s 238th birthday, we should remember one very important lesson passed down from the Founders: every good machine needs a certain amount of lubrication to function well.

The Surprising Drinking Habits of Our Founding Fathers (Slideshow)

On top of being statesmen and revolutionaries, men like Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and George Washington also knew how to drink — and drink they did. In the 13 years between our declaration of independence in 1776 and the election of our first president in 1789, these men were tasked with creating a new nation from scratch. There were fierce debates, false starts, and terrible failures before a Constitution was finally ratified and a president elected. Aiding the framers through the birth of modern democracy was an astronomical amount of booze.

We shouldn’t be surprised by this. Your average colonist guzzled about seven gallons of alcohol per year. That’s a lot. In comparison, a contemporary American downs just over two gallons each year. Back then, by lunchtime, most people were two or three beers into their day, and by bedtime — after more beer, an extravagant portion of hard cider, wine and Madeira, and probably a few healthy tipples of rum — the totality of America must’ve been pretty slurry.

Some attribute the high rate of boozing back in the day to the scarcity of potable water. Others say that’s just drunken rationalizing; that, in fact, our British heritage was a lot more to blame. The popular belief in England at the time was that water, clean or not, was bad for your health. Beer and cider weren’t even categorized as alcohol, but rather as food, and as status symbols. Only the most destitute drank water because they had no other choice.

In fact, the colonists considered alcohol to be much more than just a recreational part of daily life. It was a cure-all for the sick and enfeebled, a restorative for the weak and elderly, and an important ingredient in the communal glue that held colonial society together.

Today, we’ve come to understand that drinking from dawn into the wee hours isn’t necessarily the healthiest way to live our lives, but there’s a lesson to be learned here that perhaps current American politicians should clue into: amazing things can be accomplished when people who disagree come together over a few beers and hash it out. Just ask Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr (okay, bad example).

Check out the slideshow for more teachable moments brought to you by the founders of our nation, and may God blesh ‘Merica *hic*.

George Washington

We’re taught to think of Washington as the stoic, sober, wooden-toothed patriarch of our nation, but nothing could be further from the truth. Washington was known for tying one on with about four bottles of wine and dancing the night away. After his presidency, he opened one of the largest whiskey distilleries in the country at Mount Vernon that produced 11,000 gallons in 1799, the year he died.

John Adams

It’s tough to say, but John Adams may have been the biggest drinker of the Sons of Liberty. He began every day with a draft of hard cider before breakfast. He drank three glasses of Madeira, a wine fortified with rum, every night before bed. During the bad old days under British taxation, Adams wrote to his wife, “I am getting nothing that I can drink, and I believe I shall be sick from this cause alone.” He died at 90. Of old age.

Correction: This story was originally improperly attributed. The author is Adam Boles, founder and proprietor of Sauce Culinary Travel.

Learn about the World of Wine.

Presidents and Their Drinks of Choice

Most presidents like to drink. It’s a simple fact. The founding fathers got wasted as often as they could and the mentality carried through to almost everyone else who’s inhabited the Oval Office. In honor of that tradition, we thought we’d put together a list of presidential drinking habits. That way, you could have political and drinking role models in the same person.


Jefferson may have dominated the Founding Father beer market at Monticello, but Mount Vernon was the whiskey juggernaut. In February of 1797, Washington’s first eighty gallons were produced and by June he was expanding. Though, surprisingly, the man behind the success of the whiskey wasn’t Washington. It was the Scotch-Irish John Anderson. His recipe first called for only wheat, but eventually he moved to a mixture of rye, corn, and a little barley.

In fact, Anderson was so successful Washington trusted him to run the distillery, saying “Distillery is a business I am entirely unacquainted with,” and that it was Anderson’s confidence that even convinced Washington to go into the business in the first place. Good thing he did too, because what started as a small batch distillation turned into the most successful commercial distillery in Virginia.

Mount Vernon is still distilling. While the spirits aren’t cheap, they’re not the most expensive whiskies we’ve ever seen either. If that’s not an option, American whiskey is a well-established practice by now, despite the interruption of the Temperance Movement. Everyone has their favorites and the best practice for celebrating an American spirit is finding a batch that fits your tastes. Luckily, we have a few articles to help you out there.

Tracing the History

Experts disagree about how alcohol was discovered and when it first came into widespread usage. Some experts suggest that alcohol was discovered as a &ldquofortuitous accident&rdquo thousands and thousands of years ago, likely before the Neolithic period (around 10,000 BC). Obviously, no written records or recipes from that time exist, making precise knowledge difficult if not impossible, but wine vessels do seem to appear in ancient works of art, including Egyptian art, produced around 4,000 BC. The Bible and other ancient writings also include many references to alcohol and drinking. 2

To fast-forward many years, alcohol played a key role in American history, as the country&rsquos founding fathers had a taste for alcoholic beverages including hard cider, wine and rum. Early colonists likely relied on alcoholic beverages, as they could be stored at room temperature without spoiling. Alcoholic drinks might have also taken the bite out of cold weather when the winter months came and heat was hard to come by. 3

Spirits of Our Forefathers - Alcohol in the American Colonies

The above statements by three of the Founding Fathers reflect the prevailing attitude toward alcohol in the 18th century and throughout much of our country's early existence. Alcohol has played a major role in our nation's history, and its use is a part of our heritage. In colonial times, Americans probably drank more alcohol that in any other era. Spirits were an integral part of daily life throughout the colonies no matter the geographic or economic differences. It was reported that the average American drank eight ounces of alcohol a day. And it didn't matter what. Americans drank beer, and cider with breakfast rum and wine with dinner claret, ratafias, creams, punches, and other concoctions in the evening. (Robinson, 2001)

"Revolutionary War era persons drank a phenomenal amount. We have here an account of a gentleman's average consumption: 'Given cider and punch for lunch rum and brandy before dinner punch, Madeira, port and sherry at dinner punch and liqueurs with the ladies and wine, spirit and punch till bedtime, all in punchbowls big enough for a goose to swim in.'" (As cited in Washington and Kitman, 1970)

There are a number of reasons for all of this tippling. Our English heritage declared that water was bad for a person's health. Given the sanitary standards of the day this was probably true. Beer consumption especially, was seen as a healthy substitute for water. Beer was considered a food, which showed social status (only the most destitute drank water) and allowed for persons to put in a full days work. Franklin while working in a printing house in London was known as the "water American", because of his affinity to water, by his fellow printers who were

Americans of the period believed it was particularly healthier to drink lukewarm alcohol during hot weather rather than drink cold water. Signs were displayed at public wells warning individuals of the dangers of cold water during the summer. The rationale for this is that when a person sweated, heat was conducted from the inside of the body. Therefore, the stomach needed warmth, which could be provided by alcohol. (Barr, 1999)

The bias against water was so great that a recent immigrant from Italy, Phillip Massei, caused a stir at a large dinner party where he asked for a glass of water. I perceived some confusion among the servants, and the water did not arrive. The host, next to who I sat, whispered in my ear, asking with a smile if I could not drink something else, because the unexpected request for a glass upset the entire household and they did not know what they were about." (As cited in Barr, 1999)

Beer usually replaced water as the daily drink. An early morning tankard of beer was typical in colonial America, even for children. This tradition, as stated earlier, came from England. The Pilgrims loaded more beer than water on the Mayflower. And, there is some evidence that they were put off at Plymouth, rather than Virginia, because the ship's crew wished to make sure they had enough beer to consume on the return voyage. (Royce, 1981)

The ingredients for beer did not grow well in New England. As a substitute, the Puritans made do with hard cider. The many apple orchards of the area were planted for its production. Men usually began the day with a quart or more at breakfast.

Beer and cider were not readily available on the frontier. Settlers west of the Allegheny Mountains converted their corn into whiskey as a substitute and to make their crop transportable. Life was hard on the frontier. The pioneers called their whiskey the "Good Creature of God", giving them the strength needed to dull the pain of the brutal manual labor of making a home in the wilderness. (Powell, 1999)

". there is unquestionably too much spirituous liquors drank in the newly settled parts of America, but a very good reason can be assigned for it. The labor of clearing the land is rugged and severe, and the summer sweats are sometimes so great that it would be dangerous to drink cold water. "(As cited in Barr, 1999)

The first businesses established on the frontier were often simple taverns located along trails and roads to take care of the needs of travelers. Tradition of the time dictated that a drink be had at every halt in a journey. One story tells of two travelers on a seventy-mile trek by coach who drank a quart of liquor at each of the eight stops that were made.

Tavern owners enjoyed higher social status than did the clergy during the colonial era. Taverns were the center of civic life. Because of this they were often required to be located near the church or meeting house. Religious services and court sessions were often held in taverns. Judges interrupted court to drink, and clergy were obligated to drink at every house call and were often seen reeling home. (Powell, 1999)

All of this drinking did not go on without some comment. John Adams stated: "If the ancients drank as our people drink rum and cider, it is no wonder we hear of so many possessed with devils." (As cited in History of Alcohol in America) But, among the founding fathers Adams stood pretty much alone. Washington, Franklin, and Jefferson all imbibed and enjoyed brewing or distilling their own alcoholic beverages.

Jefferson was one of the most knowledgeable wine connoisseurs ever to hold national office. And, he was the wine advisor for Washington, Madison and Monroe. He felt that wine was ". indispensable for my health." He further advocated the virtues of wine stating "no nation is drunken where wine is cheap and none sober, where the dearness of wine substitutes ardent spirits as the common beverage." (As cited in Insiders Guide to Virginia Wineries)

Jefferson believed that wine stimulated conversation. There must have been quite a bit of talking at Monticello because there are records that he and his guests consumed 1,203 bottles of wine in just over two year's time. (Garr, 1997) Jefferson, though, thought of himself as a man of moderation.

". you are not to conclude I am a drinker. My measure is a perfectly sober one of 3 or 4 glasses at dinner, and not a drop at any other time. But as to those 3 or 4 glasses I am very fond." (As cited in Garr, 1997)

Jefferson's interests in wine went far beyond just drinking. He was also involved in viticulture. He planted vineyards at Monticello and encourage others to take up the practice. Jefferson's attempts were not successful since the phylloxera louse, which was not discovered until the 1860s, attacked his grapes.

The sober picture we have of Washington is not correct if we are to believe anecdotes of his day. It was said that he could dance the night away with four bottles of wine under his belt. And, that his Revolutionary War personal expense account for alcohol from September 1775 to March 1776 amount to over six thousand dollars. (Washington & Kitman, 1970) He was a devout lover of beer in particular a dark porter was always in ample supply at Mount Vernon. A typical Washington hosted dinner "included several wines, beer, cider." (Mount Vernon An Illustrated Handbook, 1974)

With all the drinking that went on during this era, one tends to agree with Adams' statement and wonder how we fought a war, won our independence, and established a government. Perhaps the Spirit of '76, which inspired our forefathers, was indeed spirits.


Barr, Andrew. Drink: A Social History of America. 1999, Carroll & Graff Publishers, Inc.

Garr, Robin. "Jefferson and Wine". 1997, www.winelovers

"History of Alcohol in America" (Cider). www.2020

Mount Vernon An Illustrated Handbook. 1974, Mount Vernon Ladies Association.

Powell, Stephen. "The Devils Drink: 1999,

Robinson, Matthew. : How To Toast Like Our Founding Fathers", 2001, Claremont Institute Publications, 010118.cfm.

Royce, James E. Alcohol Problems: A Comprehensive Survey. 1981, New York Free Press.

"Thomas Jefferson: Food and Wine Connoisseur", The Insiders Guide to Virginia Wineries. www.blueridge/sb-wineries.

Washington, George and Kitman, Marvin. 1970, George Washington's Expense Account. 1970, Simon and Schuster.

How drunk were the Founding Fathers? Revolutionary-era Americans could drink you under the table.

America's Founding Fathers liked a good, stiff drink. In fact, they liked to have a few good, stiff drinks over the course of the day starting first thing in the morning. The ancient Persians allegedly debated important decisions once when drunk and once when sober in order to see an issue from all angles. In a flash of inspiration, Revolutionary-era Americans figured out this process could go much more quickly if you just skipped the second part.

The most famous example of this decision-making process at work is probably the Boston Tea Party. Paul Revere, Sam Adams, and the other members of the Sons of Liberty had met at the Green Dragon Tavern in Boston to toss a few back and plan an act of civil unrest. The original plan had been to creep onto the tea ships in Boston harbor and simply block the ship workers from unloading their tea. However, bolstered by the few pints they had at the Green Dragon Tavern just moments before, suddenly a little wanton destruction of property seemed like a better idea.

Later, Paul Revere would make his famous ride on horseback to warn John Hancock and Sam Adams of encroaching British soldiers. This might have been a bit more of a leisurely affair than generally reported since he stopped in Medford to drink a couple of glasses of rum.

It's easy to understand how the Sons of Liberty thought destroying roughly $1 million worth of tea was a good idea when you acknowledge they were hammered. Photo via Wikipedia.

The truth is, it was just more common to be drunk than sober for Americans at this time. As of 2013, the average amount of alcohol consumed by Americans in a year is just 2.34 gallons per person. At its height in 1830 (allegedly the drunkest year in American history), that number was 7.1 gallons.

Having a drink was thought to cure illness, provide strength, and warm the body. A drink could take many forms: a blackstrap, a syllabub, a toddy, a flip, a rattle-skull, a stonewall, a whistle-whetter, a snort, and—for shots of rum had first thing in the morning—an antifogmatic. According to Benjamin Franklin's Drinker's Dictionary, a drunk could be described as being halfway to Concord, having a head full of bees, or being the recipient of a thump over the head with Sampson's jawbone. He could be jagg'd, jambled, or going to Jerusalem. In a delightfully Carolinian turn of phrase, Franklin asserted that drunkards may also have been too free with Sir John Strawberry

There was some concern over the young nation's burgeoning bad habits. Franklin himself (who certainly enjoyed a drink or two) thought that excessive drinking made men act like fools. Benjamin Rush, a physician and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, wrote one of the first books on alcoholism, stating that “spirituous liquors destroy more lives than the sword." He advised alcoholics to “taste not, handle not."

Most Americans, however, did not care. One Georgian famously wrote, “If I take a settler after my coffee, a cooler at nine, a bracer at ten, a whetter at eleven, and two or three stiffners during the forenoon, who has any right to complain?" There was a good reason for this. A good drink made it more bearable to labor in the fields, where the hard work would quickly burn through the calories and intoxication. Most importantly, clean water was rare, and drinking dirty water could mean a slow and painful death.

At first, rum was the American beverage of choice. One report suggested that some Americans might drink up to half a pint in the morning to get some pep in their step. While it might not be exactly a great way to start a productive day, five or six shots of rum will certainly wake you up. A slightly more conservative report suggested that during the 1770s, the average adult male drank around three pints of rum weekly or about four and a half shots of rum per day.

Rum, however, was mostly considered to be a British beverage. When the American Revolution broke out, Britain used its navy to restrict cane sugar imports to America. The resulting rise in prices and a burgeoning sense of national pride resulted in the switch to the more quintessential American beverage, bourbon whiskey. Washington, after leaving the presidency, opened his own distillery at Mount Vernon that pumped out 11,000 gallons of the stuff in 1799.

After a century of excess, America's hangover caught up with itself. In the face of increasing social pressure from a variety of temperance movements in the late 19th century, alcohol consumption slowly dropped until Prohibition. At the beginning of the Prohibition, alcohol use dropped sharply, but, with a characteristically rebellious reaction, Americans began drinking more as Prohibition went on.

Modern Americans may not have the same iron livers as their Revolutionary-era counterparts, but we have the benefit of easier lives and greater knowledge about alcohol's damaging effects. Our water is clean, many of us don't work in the fields, and our lives are far, far more pleasant. I'm probably not alone in thinking that life is quite nice enough without guzzling 5 shots of rum at breakfast—although I'm not opposed to two or three stiffners during the forenoon.

8 Founding Fathers' Insane Drinking Habits

James Madison was known to consume a pint of whiskey a day, but you know what? James Madison isn’t on this list of hard-partying Founding Fathers , because in a time when the average citizen was rated a one-, two-, or three-bottle man and alcohol was safer than water, a pint a day just isn’t that impressive. Prepare to be stupefied by who did make the cut:

George Washington

Washington was a regular drinker — oftentimes a bottle of Madeira at night, accompanied by rum, punch, or beer — though that was relatively temperate for those days. But he could bring it when it counted. He once consumed enough “Fish House Punch” that he couldn’t bring himself to even mention it by name in his diary for three days. His expenditures for alcohol in 1775 were 1,000% higher than the average upkeep for the habit. He spent a full 7% of his income while in office on booze. His infamous farewell party tab totaled over $15,000 present-day dollars. He had to change out his teeth because they would become stained with brandy and wine. His estate, according to the estimable Modern Drunkard , was at one point America’s biggest whiskey producer, bottling (barreling?) an astonishing 11,000 gallons in 1799 alone.

The precocious Adams was busted drinking rum during his senior year at Harvard. He was fined five schillings, but avoided being “degraded in class.” Later he spent so much time swigging ale in radical public houses that his enemies nicknamed him “Sam the Publican” (he wore this as a badge of honor). The dude also threw epic parties, highlighted by a 1768 Stamp Act Riots commemorative bash that featured no less than 45 toasts to celebrate the planting of a Liberty Tree.

Benjamin Harrison

The patriot’s love of food and drink was typified in a remark made to Elbridge Gerry at the signing of the Declaration of Independence: “I shall have a great advantage over you, Mr. Gerry, when we are hung for what we are doing. From the size and weight of my body, I shall die in a few minutes, but from the lightness of your body you will dance in the air and hour or two before you are dead.” He was so well known for his love of vice that John Adams called him “another Falstaff” — the 18th century version of “another Sheen.”

The British would never get him. Gout, the result of spending too many afternoons slugging burgundy with his pals, claimed his life in 1791 during, what else?, a party celebrating his most recent election.

Yes, Adams did start most of his mornings from his collegiate days onward with a gill of cider, but a gill is only about 3oz. A baby could do that! More impressive: even at 40 he partied six hours a night for seven straight weeks with the younger men of the Continental Congress. He also once attempted to use his diplomatic immunity bring in 500 bottles of French Bordeaux without paying taxes, failing, and then making Jefferson do it for him. Purchases like that fueled scenes like this one, described by Moreau de St. Méry, a French dignitary staying with the Adamses, who professed shock at their “barbaric” stamina:

[Dinner was] washed down with cider, weak or strong beer, then white wine…they keep drinking right through desert, toward the end of which any ladies…leave the table and withdraw by themselves, leaving the men free to drink as much as they please, because the bottles then go the round continuously, each man pouring for himself. Toasts are drunk, cigars are lighted, [and] diners run to the corners of the room hunting night tables and vases which will enable them to hold a greater amount of liquor.

Lord Stirling

Born William Alexander, “The Dean Martin of the Revolution” (so said legendary Newsday columnist and historian Marvin Kitman) rather randomly decided he would take up the disputed English title of Earl of Stirling, and refused to be told that he couldn’t. Initiative! A close confidant of Washington (who gave away Stirling’s daughter at her wedding), and a Major General of such lionheartedness that his revolutionary efforts earned him a rep as “the bravest man in America,” Stirling also drank, like, a ton . Though no one ever accused him of being drunk on duty, he was known to enjoy a “bottle full as much as becomes a Lord, but more than becomes a General.” His boozing made him the target of satire by jerks like loyalist poet Jonathan Odell:

What matters what of Stirling may become?
The quintessence of whisky, soul of rum
Fractious at nine, quite gay at twelve o’clock
From then ‘til bed-time stupid as a rock

He didn’t just drink it though — he was also one of the first people to grow wine in the Colonies, and was awarded a gold medal for his viticultural experiments (in New Jersey!) by the Royal Society of Arts.

Ethan Allen

Most famous for leading The Green Mountain Boys, the scrappy militia responsible for winning Fort Ticonderoga, Allen was a two-fisted drinker and bon vivant about whom it was said, “None spoke oftener, laughed louder, drank deeper than he who had been chief hero.” He often enjoyed Stone Walls (a combination of rum and cider) to the point of having to be loaded on a hay cart for the return to home. One afternoon, after drinking with his cousin, Allen fell into a deep sleep during which he was bitten by a rattlesnake — causing the snake to be drunk, and Allen to awake complaining of “mosquitoes” (this story might be apocryphal).

During his three-year capture by the English, when he was trotted out as exotic entertainment before gentlemen and ladies, he’d demand his captors serve him boozy punch. They’d send a servant to do it, but Allen would refuse it until they served it themselves, at which point he’d down it in one gulp and tell them about how kickin’ rad America was. He was correct.

Luther Martin

Of the Maryland lawyer who refused to sign the Declaration of Independence on the grounds that it insufficiently respected states rights, historian Lawrence Goldstone wrote: “No one, perhaps in the whole of American history, could drink with Luther Martin.” The “heaviest drinker of that period of heavy drinking men” would excuse his habit with quips like “In the heat of the summer, my health requires that I should drink in abundance to supply the amazing waste from perspiration.” The brilliant Martin was high-functioning enough to get away with it, though sometimes he had to get creative: once when representing a Quaker in court he committed to “not drink a drop,” so instead poured 90-proof brandy over bread, ate it with a fork and knife, and then proceeded to win .

Thomas Jefferson

If Martin can’t be matched for enthusiasm, Jefferson can’t be matched for appreciation. As Emily Bosland writes in Thomas Jefferson: A Free Mind , Jefferson singlehandedly upped America’s wine game, serving as “official wine advisor” to Washington, Madison, and Monroe, and allocating 200 acres of Monticello to viticultural experimentation overseen by the Italian Phillipo Mazzei, who apparently really knew his ***t. As President, he was the first person to stock the White House with wine (and spent a third of his salary on it during his first year), and convinced the Secretary of Treasury to lower the duty on wine to boost its consumption and stifle sales of whiskey, which he saw as a scourge of drunkenness, as opposed to wine’s “innocent gratification.” Post presidency, he stayed very innocent — between 1822 and 1824, receipts indicate that he consumed 1,200 bottles . He is currently starring on Cougar Town .

Beer and George Washington

He fought the British for independence and Congress for beer.

One of George Washington’s first acts as Commander of the Continental Army was to proclaim that every one of his troops would receive a quart of beer with his daily rations.

As the Revolutionary War progressed, however, supplies of beer dwindled. And an irate Washington had to do battle with another opponent – the Continental Congress – in order to have his troops’ rations restored.

Perhaps Washington’s interest in beer had something to do with the fact that he was an accomplished brewmaster himself. The father of our country maintained a private at Mount Vernon. And his handwritten recipe for beer – said by his peers to be superb – is still on display at the New York Public Library.

Inspired by the Boston Tea Party, colonial rebels met in New York’s Fraunces Tavern to plan a similar raid on British ships in the Hudson River. After the surrender of Cornwallis, the same tavern was the scene of George Washington’s famous farewell speech to his officers.

Nor was George Washington the only founding father with a passion for beer. Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams and James Madison eagerly promoted America’s fledgling brewing industry. And Thomas Jefferson was said to have composed the first draft of the Declaration Independence over a cold draft at the Indian Queen tavern in Philadelphia.

These great men would no doubt be pleased that the enjoyment of beer remains an American tradition to this day. And America’s brewers are proud to be an important part of that tradition.

We hope you find an occasion to enjoy a beer in the very near future. And when you do, we suggest you gather your friends and drink a toast to George Washington. The man who was first in war, first in peace, and almost certainly first in the esteem of his thirsty troops.

Colonial Americans used the term “small beer” to describe home brew which was generally lower in alcohol than commercially prepared “strong beer.” George Washington’s personal recipe called for a generous measure of molasses.

Franklin also authored a text titled "Fart Proudly," a mocking essay intended to irritate the Royal Academy of Brussels, an institution he felt was too focused on impractical science. In it, he advocated for a breakthrough in making toots more pleasant-smelling. (He never sent it.)

Franklin's unique perspective extended to personal hygiene. He often opted for what he dubbed an "air bath" over a cold water bath, wandering around nude in his quarters for a half-hour each morning while reading or writing.

Toast our founding fathers in true colonial fashion

With colonial-inspired spirits like, Cristina Jerez Xeres Sherry, from left, The Muse Angry Orchard "gluten free" carbonated apple wine, Appleton Estate Reserve Jamaica Rum and Blandy's Special Dry Madeira at your Fourth of July gathering you can drink like the founding fathers. Associated Press

You know George Washington and John Hancock as founding fathers. But what about George Washington, successful whiskey distiller? Or John Hancock, fortified wine importer?

Turns out some of that patriot spirit came in bottles.

"I was surprised at how much people drank," says Corin Hirsch, who chronicled the drinking habits of colonial-era Americans in her recently released book "Forgotten Drinks of Colonial New England: From Flips and Rattle-Skulls to Switchel and Spruce Beer."

"People were starting their days with alcohol and ending their days with alcohol," says Hirsch. "It was woven into the culture in fundamental ways."

Take John Adams, second president of the United States and father of the sixth, who started each day with a tankard of cider. Adams also served as lawyer for Hancock, who got into a kerfuffle in 1768 when the British seized his sloop, the Liberty, in Boston Harbor, claiming -- charges that didn't stick -- that Hancock had avoided paying duties on most of his shipment of Madeira, a fortified wine.

Madeira made sense as a New World drink because it developed its character through being exposed to heat and sloshing around in barrels at sea. Sherry, also fortified, was also popular.

The one thing colonials weren't likely to drink was water, considered a very dubious beverage.

Where there are spirits there must be mixology. A simple colonial cocktail was rum dropped into cider, known as a Stone Wall or Stone Fence, says Hirsch.

"Flip" was the artisanal cocktail of the day, generally a mix of beer, rum, eggs, spices, sometimes cream, served warm and blended by being poured from one pitcher to another until creamy and silky. To finish, a hot poker was plunged in, imparting a charred flavor and creating a froth and steam on par with today's bartending pyrotechnics.

Beer was the drink of the early immigrants. One of the reasons the Mayflower landed in Massachusetts rather than continuing south was because beer was running low, notes David Sipes, cider maker at Angry Orchard.

But colonists didn't have much success raising barley to make beer, so they turned to apples, which did grow well, and made hard cider. Alcohol levels were probably fairly low, in the 4 percent to 5 percent range, notes Sipes.

Today's ciders are a bit different. Angry Orchard, for instance, uses a mix of regular apples, known as culinary apples, and traditional cider (bittersweet) apples and clocks in anywhere from 5 to 10 percent alcohol.

If you're looking for a sparkler to break open on July 4, Angry Orchard has a new cider called The Muse, inspired by slightly sweet sparkling wines, which is made from apples from Italy and France, comes in a cork-caged bottle and is just under 8 percent alcohol.

On the hard liquor side, Americans turned away from rum after the revolution and domestic whiskey production increased, says Steve Bashore, manager of trades at the distillery and gristmill site of Mount Vernon, Washington's estate in Virginia.

Most farmers had at least a small still and some made larger quantities. Washington got into the business in 1797 when he returned from the presidency and hired farm manager, James Anderson, a Scottish immigrant with extensive distilling experience.

Washington had all the ingredients for the whiskey business, including a water-powered grist mill and cooperage. He started with two stills in the cooperage, later built a distillery and by 1799 production was 11,000 gallons, likely the largest U.S. distillery of the time, says Bashore.

An astute businessman, Washington "ran a pretty tight ship at Mount Vernon," says Bashore and the tradition continues today with workers at the estate making whiskey the old-fashioned way in small batches from grain ground at the mill, all done by hand, including carrying water by bucket.

The research team worked through the ledgers from 1798 and 1799 noting the types of grain delivered to the distillery to develop the recipes -- or "mash bill" -- for Washington's whiskey, which is 60 percent rye, 35 percent corn and 5 percent malted barley. About half the whiskey is unaged, or "white" whiskey, as it would have been in Washington's time, and the rest is barrel-aged, with all bottles available only through in-person purchase at the estate.

The latest batch of aged George Washington Straight Rye Whiskey will go on sale over the July 4th weekend.