Time to pull out the firecrackers, roman candles, bottle rockets and cherry bombs – it’s the lead-in to Independence Day here in the States and a great time to celebrate all things American. If you’re like me, though, you’ll be happy to leave the explosives to the pros. Having a pronounced fondness for all my fingers, I’m content to enjoy someone else’s show and limit myself to some good drinks and maybe a sparkler or two if I’m giddy.
So what to drink on the Fourth of July?
Unless you’re feeling particularly reconciliatory or ready to give reign to your royalist leanings, it’s probably a good day to skip that summer stalwart, the English gin and tonic, and stick to beverages from these 50 states and commonwealths along with the various protectorates and territories. Fortunately, that’s a wide open terrain. If you really do want that G&T, why not stick to great domestic gins? I have New York Distilling Company’s Dorothy Parker and a trio of gins from St. George sitting in the bar now. The good folks at Death’s Door (perhaps the clearest case for capital letters I’ve ever seen) in Wisconsin make another great option as does the team behind Junípero. Several other solid choices are sloshing about across the continent.
Beyond the G&T, any of those gins might make the base for a martini, that great icon of American drinking culture and the American century generally. The martini almost screams to be the toast of choice on the Fourth, except, of course, a proper martini never screams. It only speaks in a refined, authoritative voice that commands respect. It also seems to call for a level of formality that I can’t quite manage on a day of barbecues and baseball, so perhaps hold it in reserve for President’s Day.
For the nearly mandatory outdoor frolics associated with the nation’s birth, there’s hardly anything more traditional – or more satisfying – than a beer. During the dark decades after WWII, beer wasn’t necessarily a source of great American pride: Brewing within our borders was a triumph of science, quality control, logistics and marketing. Actual flavor? Let’s just say opinions vary. If you’re dedicated to your favorite mass produced lager (light, lite or other), I’m not here to deny you, but maybe consider adding in some of the great beers that America has begun producing in the microbrewery renaissance. Early proponents of this trend are available almost everywhere – think Sam Adams (there's a name redolent with patriotism), Anchor Brewing (maybe a Liberty Ale?) or Sierra Nevada (maybe channel Admiral Farragut and go for the Torpedoes?) as prime examples. There are far too many great examples to mention, though. You probably have an attractive option near you. Here in New Orleans, The Drinkist will likely be enjoying something cold from NOLA Brewing at some point on the Fourth – a Hurricane Saison or their Hopitoulas IPA.
For the wine drinkers around, my experience is you already know what American wines you like. So, I won’t bother with dropping names, but I’ll suggest keeping the summer heat in mind. When we think of a cool wine on a summer’s day, white wines like pinot gris spring to mind, but don’t discount the reds. Most are best served around 60° (Fahrenheit, of course. We’re talking America here, for Pete’s sake) which is enough to the edge off a summer’s day. A few can go even lower. I won’t suggest Beaujolais for the Fourth (again, America – not France). But since the Beaujolais region is within a couple of hundred miles of the birthplace of the French hero of the American Revolution, the Marquis de Lafayette, you’ll get a pass as long as you toast his Lordship at the outset. Otherwise, stick to pinot noir, gamay and other fruit-forward styles and chill them mercilessly. I’ll even look the other way if you decide to drop in an ice cube, as long as I didn’t pay too much for the bottle.
If you want a spirits option, there are a plentitude of choices; the aforementioned gins are one of the smallest sets of options. The granddaddy of them all is that most native of American spirits, bourbon. By law and international agreement bourbon may only be made in the United States (there are a few other requirements we’ll talk about at a later date) and it forms a long and storied part of our nation’s heritage. Of course, not all those stories are true, but no matter. If it was good enough for Daniel Boone, it’s damn sure good enough for me. For the heat of summer, I like it on the rocks or with soda. If you have the ambition or can pay someone, forming it into a mint julep will make you part of a tradition dating back to the colonial era and offer you refreshment and relaxation all in the same cup. Silver julep cups optional but strongly recommended, particularly south of the Mason-Dixon.
If you’re looking for something more akin to what the founding fathers drank, you might pour a tipple of Laird’s Applejack from the oldest distiller in America, recipient of license #1 from the Department of the Treasury back in 1780. Mind you, the distillery was around before the Department of the Treasury so we can mark that down as a formality. Prior to the Revolution, none other than George Washington himself sent a letter requesting Robert Laird’s recipe. At that point, Robert was already the 4th generation of the Laird distilling dynasty. Their product has aged well. Seek it out and drink it. There are 2 bottles sitting in my bar as I type. In fact, hold on a moment while I go pour some.
Ahh, that’s much better. As you might deduce from the Laird’s story, apples were an important part of colonial drinking and cider was the way to go. In the early days of the republic, we drank a lot more cider than beer. The beer was, well, odd. Squash ales and the like. Best not to think too deeply about it and pop open a cider or two (domestic, of course).
Rum was also a favorite of early America. Interesting examples are popping up around the country, but it’s hard to ignore Puerto Rico. While the good people of the commonwealth don’t yet have full representation in Congress, they do have some fine rum. Bacardi is the best known example (and perfectly satisfactory), but it’s made there for a corporation headquartered in Bermuda. If you’re out shopping, keep an eye open for Don Q, the best-selling rum on the island, and Ron de Barrillito, an old, respected label with a nice depth of character.
If some other spirit is your preference, you’ve got some choices. Despite the freight of the Cold War, vodka has become a quintessential American choice. It’s the best-selling spirit in the country and some of the best examples are made right here. I’ll likely start my celebration off with a Bloody Mary made with Tito’s as pictured. In this case, I’ve infused it with celery, black pepper and bay leaves to make a savory base, but right out of the bottle, it’s a strong choice. And it’s made from that most American of grains, corn.
Whatever you choose to drink, be safe and have a very happy Fourth!
Photo: Bloody Mary for Breakfast and America
Photo Credit: Steve Morgan