Throwback Thursday

After posting about my experience at the Mount Vernon whiskey distillery, I realized I omitted a significant high point. Before returning to Texas, I made one last visit to the distillery, and it happened to be the same day that Dave Pickerell was there to help the distillers finish off the batch of rye. For those who aren’t familiar with Dave Pickerell, I guarantee you are familiar with his work (if not personally, you have probably heard of it). For fourteen years he was the Master Distiller at Maker’s Mark Distillery, and he helped make that product a staple at bars and homes across the United States. He now works at WhistlePig Rye Whiskey Distillery. Dave Pickerell is such a prominent figure in the American whiskey business, he is known as “Mr. Whiskey.” You can learn more about his work here: “Meet Mr. Whiskey.”

Every year, Dave Pickerell makes a trip to Mount Vernon to work with the distillers. Dave has a long history of working at Mount Vernon; he did whiskey distilling demonstrations before the new distillery was built, and he has had a hand in the production of every batch of George Washington’s reconstructed rye. Needless to say, getting a chance to meet Dave and chat with him about making whiskey, the history of American whiskey, and the modern whiskey industry was a real treat. I certainly hope we get a chance to chat further in the future.

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Cheers, and happy Throwback Thursday.

HIST 4388: Alcohol in the Atlantic World

Classes begin next week at UTA, which means the past few days have been full of course prep. I will say, having the chance to visit the local homebrew store to buy materials for class… well, it was a nice treat.

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My kind of school supplies.

A few seats remain. To any UTA students out there, jump in and join the fun!

To everyone else not at UTA, but who may be interested in the class (a number of you have contacted me over the past few weeks), I hope to post regular updates related to the course throughout the semester. You can also follow course discussions on Twitter via the hashtag: #H4388.

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The course syllabus is now available. You can find it online here.

Drinking for Freedom

This holiday weekend, as people across the United States celebrate the anniversary of the American colonies’ declaration of independence, many will do so by firing up backyard grills and enjoying cold, crisp bottles of beer. Beer is particularly popular in the United States at the moment, thanks to the rapid spread of innovative breweries across the country. Drinking also seems to go hand-in-hand with holiday celebrations, but there is a certain appeal to enjoying a cold beer on a hot July day.

Though many likely stocked up on beer in anticipation of the holiday, what would the American colonists who supported the fight for independence drink? Probably not beer.

Eight men around table, drinking and smoking, 1797
“Eight men around table, drinking and smoking” (1797), via Library of Congress

I say probably, because beer was certainly available in the mainland thirteen colonies. The colonists, though, tended to have a taste for the stronger stuff, and they had plenty to choose from. Readily available ‘potent potables’ included (but were not limited to): rum, a variety of wine, cider, rum, brandy, whiskey, and more rum. Beer did flow through the colonies, but often tavern-goers opted for bowls of rum punch. They also mixed their own cocktails out of beer, adding rum and sugar to make a popular drink known as Flip.

More popular, though, was rum punch. A mixture that traditionally included five ingredients, aided by a handy rhyme (to keep the recipe easy to remember after the second or third round). The handy little rhyme called for:

One of sour,
Two of sweet,
Three of strong,
Four of weak.

One part sour – which usually comprise of either limes or lemons. Two parts sugar to take the edge off the sour lime flavor. Three parts strong included whatever rum one had handy, though aged rum was preferred. Four of weak included a mixture of water and ice, so tavern-goers could have more than one round before falling on the floor (though that did tend to happen).

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Greenwood, Sea Captains Carousing in Surinam, c. 1750s, via Wikimedia Commons.

Rum punch was immensely popular, as shown in the number of illustrations that feature the rum punch bowl as the focal point (for both the viewer of the illustration and those depicted drinking in the tavern). The colonists would mix, and consume, this popular punch in great quantity. One recipe called for one quart of lemon juice, one quart of brandy, two quarts of rum, five pounds of sugar, and four to five quarts of water and ice.

This drink was enjoyed by all, from the humble tavern patron to members of the social elite. Recipes of rum punch could become quite extravagant, as shown in Harriott Pinckney Horry’s recipe book from 1770. Here is her recipe for The Duke of Norfolk Punch:

“Boil twelve Gallons of Water, as soon as it Boils put in twelve pound of loaf Sugar and the Whites of thirty Eggs… [strain with a cloth] into a rum Cask; then put in five quarts and a half of Orange juice, and three quarts and a half of Lemon juice [strained]. Peel thirty Oranges and thirty Lemons very thin, steep the Peel in a Gallon of rum four days, strain the rum off into the Cask adding four gallons more of rum. It will be fit to bottle in two Months.”

Harriott Pinckney Horry’s recipe provides an example of ‘elite’ rum punch, likely the kind enjoyed by the Founders themselves (not a far leap, as her brother was a Revolutionary War veteran and signer of the Constitution).

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Gillray, Anacreontick’s in full song, 1801, via Library of Congress. The tune of ‘The Anacreontic Song’ would become better known in the United States as ‘The Star Spangled Banner.’

Historians have made much about the abundance of alcohol in the North American colonies, as well as the role drinking played in fueling the movement toward independence. Americans continue to celebrate this momentous day, and though the beverage of choice may have changed, the practice of pouring and enjoying a refreshing glass continues.

Happy Independence Day! As always, enjoy that rum punch responsibly.

 

Further Reading:

Peter Thompson, Rum Punch & Revolution: Taverngoing & Public Life in Eighteenth Century Philadelphia (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998).

Ian Williams, Rum: A Social and Sociable History of the Real Spirit of 1776 (Nation Books, 2006).

Ed Crews, “Drinking in Colonial America”