Inauguration 2013: Guide to drinking like a president

Round Robin’s barman at the Willard Hotel is a fount of information about presidential drinking habits. Photo: Barman Jim Hewes makes a mint julep that Pres. John Taylor would love Photo: Willard Hotel

WASHINGTON, January 16, 2013 — Every so often  a president might need a stiff drink or two. And some presidents have been known to imbibe one too many.

Others have refused to let liquor cross their lips, much less the threshold of the White House. An expert on presidential drinking, amateur historian and mixologist Jim Hewes, the barman at the Willard Hotel’s Round Robin bar, knows the drinking secrets of our former presidents and loves to share the lore with his patrons.

This year for the Second Inaugural of President Obama, Hewes has concocted the Blue Hawaiian, poured over crushed ice. Made from aged tequila, said to be a favorite of the current President, combined with Blue Curacao, lime juice, and topped off with a slice of lime and pineapple, the drink conjures the azure waters of Hawaii, Obama’s birthplace. So far, Obama has not dropped in for a taste, but then sitting presidents are not in the habit of wandering around DC, even if it’s only a hop, skip and a jump to the bar where Hewes presides.

Blue Hawaiian in honor of Pres. Obama Photo: Willard Hotel

Hewes has also created three other mixed drinks in honor of the 2013 Inaugural festivities, just as does for each Inauguration.

This year he has come up with the Presidential Mojito made with dark rum, raspberry, fresh fruit, and lime; the Electoral College made with Kahula, Bailey Whiskey, and Grand Marnier; Lincoln’s Hot Spiced Cider made with Red Stag Bourbon, Cointreau and spiced cider; and The Camelot Daiquiri made with dark rum, Triple Sec, and fresh lime. Thirsty yet?

As you sip one of the celebratory drinks at the Round Robin, the oldest continuous bar in Washington, be sure to ask Hewes as he shakes, blends and stirs his latest opus to give you a little presidential history from the perspective of bourbon, gin and corn whiskey.

Who says likker didn’t shape this country? Remember the Whiskey Rebellion? George Washington did and he put it down fast.

Hewes may start his history with the teetotaler in the White House who forbade any alcohol being served there, Jimmy Carter. Not even white wine at State Dinners, horrifying the French. Then there were Presidents George W. Bush, Teddy Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge who eschewed all alcoholic libations themselves but never failed to serve liquor to their guests. Hewes even has their favorite soft drinks on his menu: Bush 43, a crisp diet cola with a slice of lemon and Coolidge, a bracing tonic of cranberry juice and soda. Teddy the Teetotaler was partial to non-alcoholic wines. Yes, there is such a thing and it is very different from grape juice.

But it is the wine descended from the vineyards of Thomas Jefferson that sits on the bar today. Dolley and James Madison liked wine too, particularly French champagne. And there’s a story that an extremely cold winter froze a Roman Punch, made from champagne and fruit, served by Ulysses S. Grant. Maybe he tried to serve it on the White House lawn.

Here are just some of the drinking tidbits of our past presidents. You will just have to have a drink at the Round Robin to learn more from barman extraordinaire, Jim Hewes.

George Washington - MADEIRA WINE: Our first chief executive favored Malmsey, a fortified wine from this Mediterranean Isle. He was also partial to fruit brandies and rye whiskey, which he distilled at Mount Vernon.

James Monroe - SHERRY COBBLER: This cool, long drink is often called America’s first cocktail, popularized during the Revolution.

John Tyler - SOUTHERN STYLE MINT JULEP: Henry Clay mentored our 10th Chief Executive in the fine art of building this compromisingly elegant elixir.

Abraham Lincoln - APPLE CIDER: Although known to have acquired a taste for corn whiskey  in his earlier years, fresh pressed apple juice would revive his constitution

Andrew Johnson - BRANDY TODDY: Johnson relied on this potion to cure “various, vicarious vapors” known to afflict residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Rutherford B. Hayes - ORANGE BLOSSUM: Washington’s pressmen spiked the oranges with gin at Hayes inaugural in 1877 after his wife, “Lemonade Lucy,” said no to any kind of alcohol.

Benjamin Harrison - RAMOS GIN FIZZ:  Popularized a block from the White House after construction of the first soda fountain at the Willard Hotel.

Herbert Hoover - LONG ISLAND ICED TEA:  Prohibition conscious imbibers relished this enticing tall drink, which contained everything from the bar except “the kitchen sink.”

Harry S. Truman - MAKER’S MARK and SODA: An aficionado of Kentucky’s finest, both he and Bess

enjoyed this long drink while playing poker at the White House.

John F. Kennedy - BEEFEATER MARTINI: Served regally and up with olives in the White House to those in the good graces of America’s “Camelot” president.

Richard M. Nixon - BACARDI RUM and COKE: He relished mixing and stirring for his guests aboard the presidential yacht Sequoia.

Ronald Reagan - CALIFORNIA SPARKLING WINE: He  introduced these wines to Washingtonians at his first Inaugural.

William J. Clinton – TANQUERAY GIN AND TONIC: It was a standard on the Washington cocktail circuit

George H. Bush - ABSOLUT VODKA MARTINI: Always politically correct, with or without garnish.

Follow all of our stories on President Obama’s Second Inaugural at

Inauguration 2013

Also read:

Inauguration 2013: Schedule of this week’s events

Inauguration 2013: The Inaugural Parade to march down Pennsylvania Avenue

Inauguration 2013: President Obama, three Bibles, two oaths

Want to see the 2013 Inauguration and Parade? Here’s how

2013 Inauguration: How much will it cost you?


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Catherine Poe

Catherine was named one of the top Progressives in Maryland along with Senator Barbara Mikulski and Congresswoman Donna Edwards. She has been a guest of President Obama in the Rose Garden.

As past president of Long Island NOW, she worked to reform women's prisons in New York, open the construction trades to women, change laws to safeguard battered women, and protect the rights of rape victims. 

Long active in Democratic politics, she served as the presidentof the Talbot Democrats in Maryland for six years and fought to getthe Health Care Reform bill passed.

Catherine has been published in a diverse range of newspapers and magazines, including Newsday, Star Democrat, Rocky Mountain News, Yellowstone News, and the Massachusetts Review.

If Catherine has learned anything over the years it is that progressive change does not come easily, but in baby steps. 

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