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Celebrating July 4th with the Original Cocktails of the Colonies

June 30, 2023

The founding fathers of the United States were connoisseurs of a good drink. In fact, the American Revolution was planned, in part at least, in taverns where men could gather and discuss the issues of the day (like paying taxes on molasses, which increased the price of rum). And while hard cider, beer, and wine were popular in colonial drinking, spirits combined with mixers have a revered place in our nation's history, too.

So, in celebration of July 4th, we're sharing how the cocktail got its start in the Colonies.

Origin of the Cocktail

Before there was the cocktail, there were flips, syllabubs, and punches. Mixing alcohol with sugar, juice, or other ingredients wasn't uncommon if for no other reason than some of the liquor distilled in colonial times was literal rotgut. A good mixer could make bad liquor palatable. 

The flip was beer mixed with sugar and rum, then heated to a froth by a red-hot metal poker. The syllabub was a whipped cream-based drink, usually made with wine, heavy cream, sugar, and fruit. 

Original Batch Cocktail

And punch? Punch was the original batch cocktail. A mixture of spirits (typically rum or brandy), water or tea, citrus, sugar, and spice, punch was served for all occasions, at least by those who could afford it. 

Punch was a sign of status and generosity because only the wealthy could afford large amounts of imported ingredients like citrus, spices, and sugar. It was served at balls and dinners, and to celebrate business deals, weddings, and other major events - like elections.

Cocktails for Democracy

When George Washington ran for the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1758, he served voters 70 gallons of rum punch (along with beer, wine, cider, and brandy). And yes, he won that election.

The first published definition of a cocktail is from the May 13, 1806, edition of the "The Balance and Columbian Repository" which called a "cocktail... a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters." It noted that it was an excellent electioneering potion in as much as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head."

The Most Popular Ingredients for Early Cocktails

American colonists thrived on innovation and local ingredients. 

While rum, citrus, and sugar were imported, colonial Americans used locally-grown fruit to round out their punch bowls. Apples were made into cider and applejack, and cherries, strawberries, and peaches were used to flavor beverages. Punches also used milk or heavy cream to soften the harsh liquors.

How To Drink Like a Founding Father for Your July 4th Celebration

Try one of these colonial favorites at your July 4th celebration.

Cherry Bounce

One of Washington's favorite drinks (he filled his canteen with it on a September 1784 trip) was the Cherry Bounce. Martha Washington's original recipe called for Morrello cherries, brandy, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Use bourbon or whiskey for a more modern version.

Martha Washington's Rum Punch

Mrs. Washington also made a rum punch that was a favorite of Ben Franklin's. For a modern version, mix white rum, dark rum, Orange Curacao, lemon juice, orange juice, simple syrup, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves.

Fish House Punch

Created by a colonial social club known as the Schuylkill Fishing Company of Pennsylvania, Fish House Punch is the perfect potent summer drink with a mix of rum, cognac, peach brandy, black tea, lemon juice, and sugar.

Making New History

If you give any of these original cocktails of the colonies a try, be sure to share them with us on Instagram. Or, can we help you make some new history with your own brand?