You can’t toss a coaster in most bars without hitting some framed plaque expounding Ben Franklin’s love of beer. Nudge your history-buff stool-mate and you’ll get stories of the Pilgrims landing to restock on beer. Both tales apocryphal, but good boozy bartalk. Still, a drop of truth lurks in every glass: From George Washington’s first run for the House in 1758, when he courted voters with a pile of beer kegs, alcohol and American politics have gone hand in tippling hand. Founded by Puritans, but fueled on freedom, we tiptoe between tolerance and temperance, and swings between abstinence and abandon show in our leader’s shifting drinking habits. Tastes have run from Adams’s apple cider to Reagan’s red wine. Grant was a one-whisky man (“a single glass would show on him,” a friend said.) Taft was more of a gourmand. At a Georgia campaign stop — where he promised to “weld into a unit the north and south,” he and his boosters washed down a possum feast with a hundred gallons of persimmon beer. “The best dish I have tasted in weeks,” he told the New York Times with “the broad Taft smile.”
These days, Convention news will surely fuel your happy hour conversations. But for anecdotal reinforcement, and inspiration for your next drink, look to Mark Will-Weber’s new duo of bar books, “Drinking with the Democrats” and “Drinking with the Republicans.” Will-Weber mixes cocktail recipes based on presidents past, and serves them up with nibbles of history. Word-bingo drinking games in this jargon-clogged electoral swamp are easy to come up with. But what to drink, whether you’re toasting the chaos, or hiding from it, might take some thought. If contemporary inspiration falls short (tequila-based in honor of Trump’s wall? Gold-flecked? Foam-coiffed? Orange hued? Or just a chilly rocks pour of bitters?), look to the past. Among the Reps, there’s Fillmore’s Buffalo Bull shot (bourbon, Tabasco, beef bouillon, and, incongruously, orange juice), McKinley’s Remember the Maine (rye, absinthe, cherry brandy), and Ford’s Go Blue!, with Curaçao and champagne.
Ideal for politics buffs, and helpful reassurance in these turbulent times that, no matter what (well, barring prohibition), there’s relief come happy hour. Elections come and go. But it’s always five o’clock somewhere.