We all know the Sugar Trade and Rum fueled the Boston and Philadelphia economies in the 1760’s.  There is no denying that our founding fathers frequently enjoyed a stiff drink.  George Washington owned a distillery that produced rye. Thomas Jefferson treasured his French wines. Even the staid and ultraconservative John Adams had a gill of cider before breakfast. Drinking was so much a part of colonial culture that the ever-quotable Benjamin Franklin is attributed with saying: “Wine is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”  There is no denying the founding fathers not only drank, but openly approved of the pastime.

While the working classes mainly indulged in beer and cider, rum and applejack. Those who could afford it looked to Europe to slake their thirst, with old-world elixirs like madeira, sherry and Holland gin all popular along the eastern seaboard.  The Cocktail Hour was not really a think in 18th Century America.  But people were beginning to imbibe what we would clearly recognize as mixed drinks today.  Here are a few common ones[1].

Prescription Julep

  • 1 ½ oz Cognac
  • ½ oz rye whiskey
  • Fresh mint leaves
  • ¼ oz simple syrup
  • 1 ½ oz dark rum

Combine the mint leaves and syrup in the bottom of a chilled silver julep cup and gently muddle the leaves. Add crushed ice until the glass is one-third full. Add the Cognac. dark rum and rye and stir. Add more ice[2]. Stir again, until the sides of the cup frost over. Top with the remainder of crushed ice. Garnish with a large sprig of mint.

Stone Fence

  • 2 oz dark rum, applejack or whiskey
  • 4 oz Hard cider

Fill a highball glass with ice. Add your spirit of choice. Top with cider.  If you want to be period correct, use dark rum in New England and Philadelphia; use applejack in western New York, and western Pennsylvania (AKA Virginia); but use whiskey in the deep south.  Then again, a Stone Fence can literally be made with any spirit you can get your hands on.

Hot Toddy

  • 3 oz Whiskey
  • 2 oz boiling water
  • ¼ oz brown sugar
  • Fresh grated nutmeg

Warm the mug with hot water, then discard. Add the sugar to the mug, then a splash of near-boiling water. Muddle these together until combined, then add the remaining water and spirits. Mix together, then top with fresh grated nutmeg.  Other variants substitute freshly brewed tea for the hot water.  A buttered toddy is a hot drink created from honey and lemon juice, along with a dash of nutmeg. That mixture was added to a glassful of rum and a quarter of butter and diluted with boiling water.

Hot Ale Flip

  • 3 fluid ounces (6 tablespoons) dark rum
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 pint (16 fluid ounces, or 2 cups) dark beer such as brown ale, porter, or stout
  • freshly grated nutmeg for garnish

Pour the rum and molasses into a pint glass. Crack the eggs into a second pint glass and beat well with a fork.  Warm the beer in a small saucepan over low heat just until it begins to froth and steam; don’t let it come to a boil. Pour the beer into the glass filled with rum and molasses, then pour the mixture into the pint glass containing the eggs. Continue to pour the drink back and forth between the 2-pint glasses until smooth and well-blended. Divide the drink between two mugs.

Other popular libations from our forefathers include:

Birch Wine. This was made from birch trees in the month of March when the sap ascended. To each gallon of sap was added honey and sugar, which was boiled together. Cloves or lemon could also be added. To every nine gallons of wine two ounces of hops were also added to create a yeast. This concoction then sat for two months before it was bottled, and two months after that, it was fit to drink.

Carrot Beer. Yes, you can make beer from carrots!  This was a popular “Breakfast Beer” for much of the 18th Century. Carrot beer contained water, carrots, treacle, bran, and hops and was created just as other beer was created.

Curacoa. This drink contained distilled spirits infused with orange peel and two pounds of clarified sugar. The mixture was shaken, sat overnight, then strained through paper or cloth until clear. A spoonful was added to cold water for a refreshing summer drink.

Parsnip Wine. Wine was not just made from grapes.  In fact, there were many types of wines in the 1700s. Parsnip wine was one. The parsnips were boiled until tender, drained through a sieve or colander, to which a large amount of sugar is added. This is boiled and sieved, hops were added, and the combination was boiled again. Finally, yeast was added and it is allowed to stand (ferment) for four days before it was ready to be consumed.

Raspberry Brandy. This drink used the juice of scalded raspberries with an additional pund of sugar added to and to every quart of juice.  The raspberries and sugar were boiled and skimmed. When cold and clear, equal amounts of brandy were added. 

Warm Heart. This was said to be a nice cordial for evening parties, or if water was added, it could be used as a refreshing beverage during warm weather. It consisted of lemons, milk, syrup, whiskey, brandy, rum, and wine.

Whip Syllabub. Grate a lemon peel into a pint of a cream, adding sugar and a pint of wine with either orange or lemon juice. The mixture was then whipped and allowed to separate or put through a sieve and drained. What was left was then floated in a glass of wine.

So, if beer is not your think, we understand but join the party anyway.


[1] Some of these recipes have been “modernized” for our pallet. 

[2] Ice is common today but not so much in the 18th Century.


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Published by Michael Carver

My goal is to bring history alive through interactive portrayal of ordinary American life in the late 18th Century (1750—1799) My persona are: Journeyman Brewer; Cordwainer (leather tradesman but not cobbler), Statesman and Orator; Chandler (candle and soap maker); Gentleman Scientist; and, Soldier in either the British Regular Army, the Centennial Army, or one of the various Militia. Let me help you experience history 1st hand!

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