Pressing Cider

A fashion in the South was to take a glass of whiskey, flavored with mint, soon after waking.

“Leven O’clock Bitters” refers to the custom of closing offices and businesses at eleven in the morning so that everyone could get a drink. Drinks known as punch, slings, toddys, and flips were served in coffee houses, bars, homes, and offices. The custom was found throughout the colonies and was honored again at four o’clock.

Continental Coin

Women working at home drank medicated rum such as “Stoughton’s Elixir” or “Hexham’s Tinctures”.

Prior to dinner, people drank whiskey or brandy and water flavored with apples. Both were thought to be good for digestion. The last appeal for drinks was late in the evening to secure a sound night of sleep.

Elixer Coin

Many clergymen were engaged in the liquor business, owning distilleries and taverns. Their autobiographies are filled with accounts of drinking bouts in the homes of their parishioners and during ordinations and other religious exercises. The authorities of many towns encouraged the establishment of drinking places near the churches so that the preachers and their congregations could refresh themselves before and after services.

America’s First Five Presidents and Alcohol

  • George Washington had a still on his farm and he was a devout lover of beer; in particular a dark porter was always in ample supply at Mount Vernon.
  • John Adams began each day by drinking a tankard of hard cider.
  • Thomas Jefferson collected wines, made rye whiskey from his own crops and repealed the whiskey tax in 1802. There are records at Monticello that he and his guests consumed 1,203 bottles of wine in just over two years’ time.
  • James Madison drank a pint of whiskey each day.
  • James Monroe was a fan of French red wine and champagne.
  • Washington, Jefferson and Monroe planted vineyards containing a number of varieties of imported and native grapes.
Abstinence was not one of the Puritan’s virtues. In April 1630 an English Puritan lawyer John Winthrop sailed on the “Arbella” from England for the Massachusetts Bay Colony. His vision was a Puritan “city upon a hill,” preaching a sermon during the crossing entitled A Modell of Christian Charity. He brought with him in the hold of his ship more than 10,000 gallons of wine.

In the late 1600s, rum distilling was a major industry in New England, especially in the colonies of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Between 1700-1750 there were 30 rum distilleries in Rhode Island and 63 rum distilleries in Massachusetts. Because of the success of rum, other regional industries profited; including slave trade, shipbuilding, ironworks, logging, and cooperage. During the mid-1700s Boston manufactured and consumed more rum than any other city in America. So, one could say it was an economic boost and brought prosperity. But look what else it brought.

Americans of the period believed it was particularly healthier to drink lukewarm alcohol during hot weather rather than drink cold water. Signs were displayed at public wells warning individuals of the dangers of cold water during the summer. Because digestion seemed to be restricted when drinking a cold beverage, the stomach would seem to need warm liquids on a hot day. And, according to ancient Chinese medicine, drinking warm liquids helped to arouse one’s digestive system. Therefore, lukewarm alcohol had to be much better for one than cold water.

The middle-class beverage of choice was rum, and the wealthy classes also drank rum; the wealthy also imported brandy and wines such as Madeira, Canary, Port and Malaga. The local domestic wines were not of good quality but were available for purchase and consumption. Colonists did their own home brewing and distilling of brandies and spirits; wine was fermented from any fruit or vegetable found growing on the farm or in the woods.

Most farmers kept a barrel of fermented cider by the front door for family and friends to dip into any time of the day or night. A cider press could be found in many households and on every farm. In rural America apples were a major crop used for making this cider because “virtually every homestead in America had an orchard from which literally thousands of gallons of cider were made every year,” according to food historian Michael Pollan.

By the 1760s, whiskey was being distilled in western Pennsylvania by farmers for their own consumption. Not only did farmers have their own cider presses, but legend maintains that every farmer also had his own still. Production of whiskey increased dramatically because farmers realized that a horse could carry only four bushels of grain to market but could carry whiskey made from twenty-four bushels just as easily.

The American Revolutionary War occurred between April 1775 and September 1783. Whiskey was issued as a ration to the Continental Army, if good rum was not available. In September 1789, President George Washington gave the task of solving the nation’s debt to Alexander Hamilton as the first Secretary of the Treasury. Much of that debt was incurred by individual states during the American Revolution. Hamilton suggested an excise tax on whiskey but George Washington was opposed to that suggestion. The President went to both Pennsylvania and Virginia in 1791 to hear the citizen’s views and the local governments had met that idea with positivity. Because of that assurance, Congress passed the bill for the new federal whiskey tax where small producers paid nine cents cash per gallon of whiskey, while large producers were at a rate of six cents per gallon receiving tax breaks for the more they produced.


In colonial times, Americans probably drank more alcohol that in any other era. Spirits were an integral part of daily life throughout the colonies no matter the geographic or economic differences. It was reported that the average American drank eight ounces of alcohol a day. And it didn’t matter what. Americans drank beer, and cider with breakfast; rum and wine with dinner; claret, ratafias, creams, punches, and other concoctions in the evening.

Whiskey was so commonplace in society that if there was a barrel of whiskey with a tin cup chained to it, any person could help themselves at any time. Grocers and merchants kept barrels of rum for customers buying goods or settling their accounts; it was good manners to get groggy on these occasions.

Town and village officials, along with court sessions, were often held in taverns so everyone would have quick access to drink. The social status of tavern owners was high, equal or above clergymen. Just think about that statement for a while. Now you can understand why temperance and prohibition became discussion points for the next 100 years.


11,008,447 gallons consumed by a population of 4 million: 2.5 gallons per capita.

5,200,000 gallons produced. Ardent spirits were still being imported at a higher rate during these earlier years.

The Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania occurred during the summer of 1794 when federal marshals served writs to 60 distillers who had not paid their taxes. Mobs attacked the tax collectors and burned their properties and assaulted their families. A federal militia who marched into western Pennsylvania was not met by a rebel army and ultimately the whiskey tax remained in effect until 1802.

The Whiskey tax was reinstated from 1814-1817 to fund the War of 1812 even though it had been so difficult to collect during the earlier years.


14,191 distilleries, an increase of five-fold from 1790 to 1810.

Population of 7 million: 4.7 gallons per capita.


33,365,559 gallons consumed. 254,999,382 produced.

Imported 8,000,000 gallons and exported 133,823 gallons.


The 1,900 residents of Dudley, Massachusetts drank 10,000 gallons of rum.


Albany, New York’s population of 20,000 drank 200 gallons of alcohol, an average of 10 gallons for each man, woman, and child.


American adults drank an average of 7 gallons of pure alcohol per year: the modern equivalent of 1.7 bottles of 80 proof liquor per person per week.