While modern Americans might eschew the everyday ritual of drinking, in Colonial America a daily dose of alcohol was practically mandatory. Safer than potentially unclean water, booze was the best option for staying hydrated and warm, so there was no reason to hold back—and they didn’t. The average colonist downed six gallons of pure alcohol annually, compared to today’s average of two.
Sure, freezing to death or the British burning houses were always a concern, but as long as the booze was plentiful and the taverns were open, drinking accompanied everything from political meetings to family dinners to post-church socializing. From the moment the Mayflower landed, beer was a colony staple, and when Boston got into the business of molasses distillation, rum became plentiful. By the time the Revolution rolled around, George Washington was drinking egg-infused ale cocktails and Benjamin Franklin was coming up with synonyms for drunkenness, including “buzzey,” “wamble crop’d,” “nimptopsical” and “crump footed.”
For some early Americans, drinking was for liquid courage. At the dawn of the American Revolution, Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys were downing Stone Fences (a hearty mix of hard cider and rum) while Washington and his men were warming up with Hot Ale Flips (a frothy combination of ale, eggs, rum and nutmeg warmed with a red-hot poker). For others, drinking was about socializing, and for such occasions the swift and heavy Rattle Skull (dark beer, rum and lime) or the steaming, revelrous Wassail (baked apples, sherry, cider and ale) were the drinks of choice, while hot or cold punch, particularly Philadelphia Fish House Punch, aided the early colonists to gain enough confidence to stage a revolution.
So in honor of America’s earliest drinking days, here are five colonial-era cocktails built for withstanding the winter chill.