Alcohol and Drinking in American Life and Culture: Fun Facts

Drinking in American life goes back to the early colonial settlers. (Virtually no Native Americans had alcohol.)

drinking in American life
Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman)

Some people have called making and drinking alcohol as American as apple pie. Actually, these activities may be more American than apple pie. That’s because they existed in the country long before apples were introduced from Europe. Indeed, Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman) supplied the need of settlers for apples. They wanted primarily to make hard cider.1

There are many examples of the major role of drinking in American life and history from the very beginning.

Like trivia? See Alcohol Trivia Resources.

Christopher Columbus

  • Christopher Columbus brought Sherry on his voyage to the New World.2
  • The Puritans loaded more beer than water onto the Mayflower before they cast off for the New World.3
  • The early colonialists made alcohol from whatever they could. This included carrots, tomatoes, onions, beets, celery, squash, corn silk, dandelions, and goldenrod.4
  • There wasn’t any cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, or pumpkin pie to eat at the first Thanksgiving. But there was beer, brandy, gin, and wine to drink.5
  • A traveler through the Delaware Valley in 1753 compiled a list of the drinks he encountered. All but three of the 48 contained alcohol.6
  • Tavern owners enjoyed higher social status than did the clergy during part of the Colonial period.7
  • A brewery was one of Harvard College’s first construction projects. It was so that beer could be served to students.8
  • The laws of most American colonies required towns to license suitable persons to sell wine and spirits. Failure to do so could result in fines.9

Taverns Were Important

  • drinking in American lifeColonial taverns were often required to be located near the church or meetinghouse.10
  • Religious services and court sessions were often held in the major tavern of Colonial towns.11
  • The Colonial Army supplied its troops with a daily ration of four ounces of either rum or whiskey.12
  • Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence in a tavern.13
  • Every signer of the Declaration drank alcohol.14
  • The first and best known signer of the Declaration, John Hancock, was an alcohol dealer.15
  • The bill for a party for the 55 drafters of the Constitution was large. It included the cost of 54 bottles of Madeira, 60 bottles of claret, and 8 bottles of whiskey. Also 22 bottles of port, 8 bottles of hard cider, 12 beers and seven bowls of alcohol punch. It was large enough that “ducks could swim in them.”16
  • Before he took his famous ride, Paul Revere is reported to have had two drinks of rum.17
  • The patriot Patrick Henry (“Give me liberty or give me death”) was a bar tender.18
  • Making rum became early Colonial New England’s largest and most prosperous industry.19
  • The US Marines’ first recruiting station was in a bar.20
  • George Washington (see his Quiz) became his new country’s first major distiller of whiskey.21
  • Martha Washington enjoyed daily toddys. In the 1790s, “happy hour” began at 3:00 p.m. and cocktails continued until dinner. Drinking in American life was clearly important.22
  • Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson both enjoyed making their own alcohol.23
  • The 1793 Whiskey Rebellion occurred. It happened when federal tax collectors were attacked in Pennsylvania. Citizens were outraged that the whiskey they had been making was being taxed. Much of it was for their consumption.24

National Anthem

  • The national anthem, the “Star-Spangled Banner,” was written to the tune of a drinking song.25
  • In the 1830’s the average person aged 15 or older consumed over seven gallons of pure alcohol. That was from an average of 9 1/2 gallons of spirits, 1/2 gallon of wine, and 27 gallons of beer. That’s about three times the current rate in the US.26
  • Abraham Lincoln held a liquor license and operated several taverns.27
  • President Martin Van Buren was born in his father’s tavern.28
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected President of the US in 1932 on a pledge to end National Prohibition.29
  • Bourbon whiskey is an American creation. It’s the official spirit of the US, by act of Congress.30

Favorite Presidential Alcoholic Drinks

The favorite alcoholic drinks of Presidents include these.

  • drinking in American lifeGeorge Washington (Madeira wine)31
  • John Adams (Hard cider)32
  • Thomas Jefferson (Hard cider and beer. His favorite wine was Madeira)33
  • James Madison (A Yard of Flannel, a drink consisting of ale, eggs, sugar, nutmeg, ginger, and rum or brandy.)34
  • William Henry Harrison (Hard cider)35
  • John Tyler (Madeira wine)36
  • James Buchanan (Whiskey)37
  • drinking in American lifeUlysses S. Grant (Whiskey)38
  • Grover Cleveland (Beer)39
  • Theodore Roosevelt (Wine)40
  • William Howard Taft (Cocktails)41
  • Herbert Hoover (Martini)42
  • Franklin Roosevelt (Scotch whisky or brandy)43
  • Harry Truman (Bourbon)44
  • Dwight Eisenhower (Scotch whisky)45
  • Jack Kennedy (Daiquiri)46
  • Lyndon Johnson (Scotch whisky and soda)47
  • Richard Nixon48
  • Gerald Ford (Gin and tonic)49
  • Ronald Regan (Orange Blossom, a cocktain typically consisting of gin, sweet vermouth, and orange juice)50
  • Bill Clinton (Tequila)51
  • Barack Obama (Beer, wine, martinis, sparkling wine, margaritas. His favorite being unclear.)52

Very few presidents have been teetotalers. George W. Bush became one long before his presidency. And Donald Trump doesn’t drink. Most presidents were drinkers but their favorites are not known. This shows the importance of drinking in American life throughout our history.

American Whiskey Trail

drinking in American lifeThe American Whiskey Trail highlights the important and fascinating role spirits have played in our history.  That history goes from the Colonial era into modern society.

Frommers rated the American Whiskey Trail one of the top 13 travel destinations.

“We picked the American Whiskey Trail because it highlights a fascinating– but an often overlooked and still ongoing — part of U.S. history.” So said Frommer’s Director. “Points along the trail make prime destinations for a leisurely road trip in some of the most charming parts of the country.”53

George Washington’s reconstructed distillery.

Probably the most popular destination on the American Whiskey Trail is George Washington’s distillery at Mount Vernon. George Washington was the new country’s first large distiller.

His reconstructed distillery shows the complete distilling process. Other points on the trail are located in a number of states as well as in the Caribbean. But they all point to the importance of drinking in American life.

Alcohol and Drinking in American Life


1. Elliott, P. 100 Proof: Tips and Tales for Spirited Drinkers, p. 13.

2. The History of Drinking: Uncorking the Past. Econ, Dec 22, 2001, p. 30.

3. Royce, J. Alcohol Problems, p. 38.

4. Mendelson, J. and Mello, N. Alcohol.

5. The First Thanksgiving.  Comm Trad, Manchester, NY, Nov.,1998.

6. Grimes, W. Straight Up or On the Rocks, pp. 44-45.

7. Krout, J. The Origins of Prohibition, p. 44.

8. Furnas, J. The Life and Times of the Late Demon Rum, p. 20.

9. Prendergast, M. A History of Alcohol Problem Prevention Efforts. In: Holder, H. (Ed.) Control Issues in Alcohol Abuse Prevention, pp. 25-52.

10. Ibid, p. 27.

11. Ibid, pp. 25-52.

12. Goode, E. Drugs in American Society, p. 182.

13. Barr, A. Drink: A Social History of America, p. 370.

14. Burns, E. A Social History of Alcohol, p. 182.

15. Ibid, p. 214.

16. website.

17. Burns, p. 27.

18. Ibid, p. 26.

19. Roueche, B. Alcohol in Human Culture. In: Lucia, S. (Ed.) Alcohol and Civilization, pp. 167-182.

20. Flint, D. U.S. Marine Corps, personal communication.

21. Head, T. First in war, first in peace, first in whiskey. George Washington as distiller. South Folkways Alli, June 14, 2015.

22. Haught, R. Distilling the truth about George. Oklahoman, Feb 20, 2013.

23. Lender, M. and Martin, J. Drinking in America, p. 6.

24. Boyd, S. The Whiskey Rebellion.

25. Mingo, J., and Barrett, E. Just Curious, Jeeves. Emeryville, California: Ask Jeeves, p. 265.

26. Clark, N. Deliver Us From Evil, p. 20.

27. Cowdery, C. Abraham Lincoln, Bourbon Country’s Native Son. Bourbon Count Read, 1998, 3 (6), p. 1.

28. Burn, p. 27.

29. Yenne, B., and Debolski, T. Book of Beer Trivia, pp. 83-84.

30. Defining “Bourbon.” The State (Columbia, SC), May 1, 2012, p. D1.

31. Put it on Washington’s tab. Hist House website.

32. Hard apple cider: a history. Essortment website.

33. Thomas Jerferson. Food Timeline website.

34. James Madison. Food Timeline website.

35. William Henry Harrison. White House website.

36. John Tyler. Food Timeline website.

37. Hansen, C. What do our presidents drink? website.

38. Carson, G. The Social History of Bourbon.

39. Boller, P. Presidential Anecdotes, p. 178.

40. Theodore Roosevelt. Food timeline website.

41. That cocktail controversy. New York Times. Sept 24, 1911.

42. The spirit of Washington. Elk Grove Citizen, Feb 19, 2013.

43. Ibid.

44. Ibid.

45. Eisenhower Nat Hist Site website.

46. Carson, Ibid.

47. J. Califano, Jr., “Presidential Vehicles.” Nat Park Serv web site.

48. The spirit of Washington. Op cit.

49. Ibid.

50. Bumgarner, J. The Health of the Presidents. p. 282.

51. Presidential cocktails. Suite web site.

52 Parnes, A. What President Obama likes to drink. Politico, July 17, 2009.

53. Frommer’s names American Whiskey Trail top tourist destination. PRNewswire, March 26, 2018.