Founding a country is stressful work, so you can’t blame George Washington for occasionally wanting to put his feet up and kick back with a cocktail or two. In the late 18th century booze flowed pretty freely—though it was far from free. An estimated 7 percent of our first president’s income while in office was spent on booze.
Beer was in abundance on Washington’s estate, Mount Vernon; it was brewed there in huge quantities, and servants working there were given a quart of beer a day. One year after his presidency, Washington even had a whiskey distillery installed at Mount Vernon—and it made a profit. While Washington was reportedly in the habit of consuming a bottle of Madeira a night, when ‘twas the season, eggnog was this Founding Father’s festive fave.
A particularly robust eggnog recipe frequently attributed to ol’ quarter-face shows just how much of the hard stuff was whirling around at the time. When visitors came to see Washington at Mount Vernon, this is what the kitchen staff would put together for them:
One-quart cream, one-quart milk, one dozen tablespoons sugar, one-pint brandy, ½ pint rye whiskey, ½ pint Jamaica rum, ¼ pint sherry – mix liquor first, then separate yolks and whites of 12 eggs, add sugar to beaten yolks, mix well.
Add milk and cream, slowly beating. Beat whites of eggs until stiff and fold slowly into mixture. Let set in cool place for several days. Taste frequently.
That’s four different types of booze, and none of them in small quantities. It’s the kind of drink that would make you say, “I cannot tell a lie: I’m hammered.” There’s Christmassy, and there’s Christmessy—this stuff would leave you lying on the ground like a chopped-down cherry tree, with breath like you had wooden teeth.
While the recipe is often said to have been written in Washington’s own handwriting, this has unfortunately been found not to be the case. It definitely hails from Mount Vernon, but doesn’t seem to have been written down by either George or Martha, and likely has its origins with an anonymous member of the kitchen staff.
Washington did write some drink recipes down in his day, including his recipe for a Cherry Bounce, which was made with Mount Vernon cherries soaked in brandy with sugar and spices added and left to ferment for a month.
The eggnog, though? That sounds warming, wintery, rich, and comforting. If someone fed you a glass of that, hell yeah you’d carve a mountain into the shape of their face.