Wine & the Founding Fathers: A Boozy History

Still telling the same stale stories about those crazy ragers you went to your freshman year? Move on over, party animal. You ain’t got nothin’ on the original party boys of the USA: the Founding Fathers.

If you think you get wild with wine, prepare to be unseated.

The year is 1788, and after five arduous months of writing the Constitution, the Founding Fathers decide to celebrate their success at a tavern in Philly. This was kind of like the party you went to after everyone finished their papers for the semester, except much cooler because everyone there just rewrote history.

In attendance (along with 55 delegates) was George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. Between the bunch they drank: 100 bottles of wine, 22 bottles of porter, 12 bottles of beer, 8 bottles of whiskey, 8 bottles of hard cider and 7 bowls of spiked punch.

Things got so out of control that bottles and punch bowls got smashed, tables were destroyed and George and Ben got into a chamber pot fight. The damages were so immense that a 2% charge was added to their already astronomical tab.

It’s not surprising that Ben Franklin was at the center of the best bash in history. The man was a huge wine fanatic. This is the same fellow that coined the phrase “wamble crop’d” (along with 200 more terms for getting drunk) in a list published by the Pennsylvania Gazette.

Benny’s love for wine ran deep. So much so that he shared his great knowledge (and collection) with Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. His Paris wine cellar included 258 bottles of red and white Bordeaux, 15 bottles of old Bordeaux, 21 bottles of Champagne, 326 bottles of bubbly Mousseux, 113 bottles of red Burgundy and 148 bottles of Xeres (sherry). Hope he shared.

Meanwhile, Thomas Jefferson spent $3,200 a year on fine wines- about 13% of his annual salary. He had fifteen wine cellars… one of them under the current West Wing. TJ would even have barrels of Brazilian Madeira shipped to his Monticello Estate, where he would bottle them using cork from cork trees he planted just for that reason. His assertion that wine helped lower alcohol abuse seems… convenient.

The fact of it is, when the Founding Fathers signed the Constitution, they probably still reeked of wine from the night before. They were ardent believers not only in Democracy, liberty and independence, but also in the notion that wine is just the best. They believed that that it can (and should) be drank all the time, because good juice was their pursuit of happiness.

So the next time somebody chanting “U-S-A” belittles your bottle of vino, tosses you a Budweiser and claims that watery lager is the ultimate American beverage- set the record straight. Far from un-American, wine has been in the belly of US history since day one.

Sure, Bud may be “the King of Beers”, but if there’s one thing the Founding Fathers made very clear, it’s that kings suck.


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