Distilling Presidential History Into 44 Cocktails

Jan 20, 2013
Originally published on January 22, 2013 4:04 pm

As Washington, D.C., gears up for the 57th presidential inauguration, political parties are in full swing. We're not talking about run-of-the-mill partisan bickering. We're talking about inaugural celebrations: balls, galas and cocktail parties. Emphasis on the cocktail.

The Round Robin Bar in the Willard Hotel is just a stone's throw from the White House. Bartender Jim Hewes has been serving up drinks there for nearly 30 years.

"I've served presidents prior to their going to the White House and after," he tells Jacki Lyden, host of weekends on All Things Considered, including Presidents Reagan, Ford and both Bushes.

But non-presidents can order a drink, too. And if you do, you are likely to be served up a dose of presidential history.

"My background was originally history and education," Hewes says.

Patrons come into the bar, he says, and ask about the political portraits adorning the walls.

"Well if I don't know, who does know?" he says.

So Hewes boned up on the presidential past, especially as it relates to the Willard. As it turns out, it's a rich history.

The original Willard Hotel was built in the 19th Century. Abraham Lincoln slept there the night before his inauguration, and President Ulysses S. Grant would enjoy a drink and a cigar in the lobby.

In honor of the inauguration, Hewes has come up with a special drinks menu, distilling presidential history into 44 drinks. Some of the drinks are based on what the presidents would have actually had, like the Madeira enjoyed by George Washington. Our first president made references to the fortified wine in Revolutionary War expense reports.

Other drinks on the list are more symbolic, like the Blue Hawaiian created by Hewes in honor of our current president. It's made with tequila, Curacao and lime juice.

"You feel like you're looking at the beautiful blue waters of the Pacific and, of course, this honors the president's heritage in terms of growing up in Hawaii," Hewes says.

Our sixth president, John Quincy Adams, would have warmed up with a hot buttered rum.

"At the time of inaugurals, the weather tended to be rather inclement," Hewes says. "A hot buttered rum was a very, very popular drink at the time, made with Caribbean rum, fresh spices from the island and fresh fruit."

And, according to Hewes, the mint julep was introduced to Washington and our 10th president, John Tyler, by politician Henry Clay at the Willard's bar.

"You hear these stories and that legacy continues," Hewes says. "You're walking in the shadow of giants."

Jim Hewes' Drink Recipes Served At The Round Robin Bar:

The Blue Hawaiian, for 44th President Barack Obama

Serves One

Patron Silver Tequila, (2 oz.) Blue Curacao (1/2 oz.), lime juice (2 oz.)

-Muddle 3 lime wedges with tequila

-Add ice, Curacao and lime juice

-Shake and strain over crushed ice

-Garnish with a wheel of lime and pineapple

Hot Buttered Rum, for sixth President John Quincy Adams

Serves One

Aged Cruzan Rum (2 oz.), triple sec (1/2 oz.), hot water

Cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, pat of butter

-Place a wedge of orange, lemon and cherry in a brandy snifter

-Add 1 tablespoon of cinameg/sugar and liquor

-Pour piping hot water into snifter

-Float butter on top

Variation : substitute hot apple cider

Henry Clay's Southern-Style Maker's Mark Mint Julep, for 10th President John Tyler

Serves One

-Place in a crystal tumbler: 1 teaspoon of sugar, a small measure of Maker's Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon and eight to 10 red-stemmed mint leaves.

-Gently muddle and add a handful of cracked ice; stir vigorously.

-Add equal measures of Maker's Mark Bourbon and sparkling branch water, re-stir and fill with ice, agitating with relish.

-Garnish with a freshly snipped sprig of mint, the zest of a lemon peel and dust with powdered sugar.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.


As we discussed, the president's inauguration isn't until tomorrow. But here in Washington, a lot of parties are already starting, with a blast of something. We're talking about inaugural celebrations: balls, galas, cocktail parties. Emphasis on the cocktail.

The Round Robin Bar is just a stone's throw from the White House, and it's a Washington mainstay. At the moment, it's bedecked in red, white and blue bunting. And Jim Hewes is a veteran bartender there of nearly 30 years standing. He's wearing a matching bow tie. Dapper.

JIM HEWES: Welcome to the Round Robin Bar at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel. And you are standing here in the oldest bar in continuous operation in Washington, D.C.

LYDEN: A capital fixture since the mid-1800s, the Willard Hotel is synonymous with presidential history. Abraham Lincoln slept in the original Willard the night before his inauguration. President Grant enjoyed drinks in the lobby. Today, the bar is adorned with portraits of past presidents, and Jim Hewes is inspired.

HEWES: You hear these stories, and that legacy continues. You know, the history is all around us. I'll say to people, you know, you're walking in a shadow of giants.

LYDEN: In honor of the inauguration, Jim Hewes has come up with a very special drinks menu distilling that presidential history into 44 cocktails. Our first president, George Washington, favored Madeira, a fortified wine from the Mediterranean. President number 35, John F. Kennedy, would kick back with a Beefeater martini served with olives.

And as for our current president, his drink, the Blue Hawaiian, is more of an homage to his homeland than something we have even one scintilla of evidence showing he actually enjoys.

HEWES: This is a beautiful drink. You know, you feel like you're, you know, looking at the beautiful blue waters of the Pacific. And, of course, this honors the president's heritage in terms of growing up in Hawaii.

LYDEN: Absolutely. I can almost hear the surf moving.


HEWES: I had heard that the president has a taste for fine-aged tequila. So we've taken a little bit of Patron tequila with some blue Curacao and some fresh lime juice, and then rigorously shake this up. And then I'll actually strain this over crushed ice and, of course, serve it with fresh lime and some pineapple.


HEWES: It's a wonderful cocktail, a light libation of extraordinary character.



LYDEN: Tell me about the Orange Blossom. Who's that for?

HEWES: Rutherford B. Hayes. And in 1877, he enters the White House. Thing is is that he was a teetotaler. He did not drink. In fact, his wife was known as Lemonade Lucy because she was always serving lemonade at functions. So the gentleman who was the head of the Washington Press Corps actually bribed White House staffers to spike the oranges with distilled spirits.

LYDEN: So they'd actually drink gin inside oranges?

HEWES: They would actually do - they would actually cut a hole, dig it out a little bit and pour a little gin in there and then put the plug back in.

LYDEN: Wow. Wow.

HEWES: And there you go. You got yourself a - an Orange Blossom special, which is gin. We're going to use Plymouth gin, and I'm going to use fresh squeezed orange juice. It's a very simple drink.

LYDEN: Fresh squeezed. Mm.

HEWES: So a little bit of an orange liqueur and a dash of orange bitters. Vigorously shake this, marrying all the flavors. And there we have it.

LYDEN: I'm going to sample it. Mm. That is lovely. Thank you very, very much.

HEWES: Let's try a hot buttered rum.

LYDEN: Great.

HEWES: And a hot buttered rum is a cocktail in our collection for John Quincy Adams.

LYDEN: Our sixth president. He becomes president in 1825.

HEWES: This is a wonderful cocktail, especially at the time of inaugurals, weather tended to be rather inclement. A hot toddy or a hot buttered rum was a very, very popular drink at the time made with Caribbean rum, fresh spices from the islands and fresh fruit.


HEWES: I've added my dark aged...

LYDEN: Cruzan rum.

HEWES: ...Cruzan rum, pat of butter.

LYDEN: A generous, beautiful pat of butter.

HEWES: And what we have is a hot buttered rum...

LYDEN: Wow. That is lovely.

HEWES: ...which President Adams would have enjoyed in the morning.

LYDEN: Oh, this is just delicious, Jim. This drink is like hot apple pie.

HEWES: And where's the ice cream?


LYDEN: So do you have a presidential hangover cure?

HEWES: I've been making this for years. Fresh lemon, fresh ground ginger - or you can use ginger ale - and soda water and then top it off with bitters, either Angostura bitters or my preference is Peychaud bitters, which is the Louisiana bitters. Can't beat it.

LYDEN: Well, Jim Hewes, you have made our visit to the Round Robin bar at the Willard Hotel here in Washington, D. C., on this inaugural weekend so much fun.

HEWES: Thank you for joining us here.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) Drinking that wine turns day into night. When they get drunk they want to bump and grind. Whooping and a hollering several nights. When they get drunk they begin to fight. Drinking wine, spo-dee-o-dee... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.