The Man Who Would Not Be King
Stir with ice and strain into a chilled coupe.
Garnish with a Luxardo Maraschino Cherry.
President’s Day is tomorrow. Usually I’d be thinking about sales at Ikea, but this year I’m thinking about the official name of the federal holiday originally implemented in 1879– Washington’s Birthday. It wasn’t until 1951 that a push was made to declare it President’s Day to honor the office of the Presidency rather than a particular President. The change never made it into law, but advertisers in the mid-1980s began to push the term, which is now lodged into the public psyche. Still, the holiday and our democracy began with George Washington.
On February 4, 1789, Washington became the first and only President to be unanimously elected by the Electoral College. Such a fleeting consensus. This week’s cocktail is in honor of one crucial choice that George Washington made in the wake of two terms as our first President — he stepped down. He wanted to return to Mount Vernon, and his choice drove home the fact that the Presidency is not a monarchy by another name. Although his support across the country was not unanimous, the Electoral College most certainly would have elected him to a third term had he chosen to run. Instead, Washington left public life and headed back to Mount Vernon in the spring of 1797. Almost immediately upon his return and on the advice of his farm manager, he entered the whiskey business. By 1799, Washington’s distillery produced nearly 11,000 gallons of rye whiskey, making our first President the owner of the nation’s largest whiskey distillery.
It seems fitting, then, for rye whiskey to headline this week’s cocktail. I’m using Washington, DC’s Rock Creek Rye, and because Washington was inaugurated in Manhattan, I’ve based my recipe on that classic cocktail. Instead of sweet vermouth, I’ve used Madeira, which was a favorite of Washington’s. Finally, in addition to Angostura bitters, I’ve added a touch of Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur as a nod to the story, now debunked, that a young George Washington owned up to cutting down his father’s cherry tree. The story itself was a lie invented by Washington’s original biographer, Mason Locke Weems. Apparently, Weems wanted to put a little Founding-father uumph behind parental warnings about lying. In this age of alternative facts, perhaps we should let this myth stand.
I hope you have tomorrow off and are looking forward to a relaxing evening with a couple of cocktails to toast to the man who would not be king.