Of the many factors to weigh when it comes to voting for President of the United States, there’s one that many people seem to take into consideration: Who would you rather have a beer with? I don’t know why this is the case; I guess it’s just a way to say which candidate is more relatable, but it’s a topic that comes up during every single election cycle.
With Presidents Day upon us, I found myself thinking about this particular hypothetical and wanted to take a look back at history to try to figure out which Commander-in-Chief would be the best one to grab a beer with. After doing some research, I quickly realized I’d have to broaden the scope a bit after realizing most presidents didn’t limit themselves to beer (or limit themselves to “a” drink) thanks to the knowledge contained in Mark Will-Weber’s excellent book Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt: The Complete History of Presidential Drinking.
I can already sense the debate beginning to brew in the comment section, so before we dive into this. I should stress this list is about as apolitical as it gets; the only thing I’m taking into consideration here is a president’s ability to booze. Based on the nature of the internet, that’s not going to stop some people from getting Mad Online, but hey, at least I tried.
Now, before we dive into things, there are more than a few presidents who won’t be making an appearance because they either never had a drink or resisted the urge to imbibe until they left office. The Sober Collective includes Abraham Lincoln (big water guy,) noted Diet Coke enthusiasts Donald Trump and George W. Bush, Benjamin Harrison (a teetotaler with a thing for tea,) as well noted ice cream aficionado Joe Biden
We’re also excluding Jimmy Carter, who occasionally had a sip of white wine when partaking in a toast but who had all liquor removed from the White House once he moved in. When you consider he’s 96 years old and still helping build houses for Habitat for Humanity, it seemed to work out pretty well for him (and his brother Billy did enough drinking for the both of them.) Finally, there’s Rutherford B. Hayes, which surprised me, because I sort of assumed a dude with that name would be a fan of throwing back a few.
That leaves us with 38 presidents, so without further ado, let’s do some ranking.
38. Richard Nixon
Nixon was a red wine guy, and as someone with the same taste in vino, I figured we’d get along swimmingly—at least at first glance.
It turns out Nixon was shady AF, and no, I’m not talking about anything related to Watergate. What I am talking about was his tendency to uncork an expensive bottle of wine for himself while entertaining and directing the White House staff to only serve his guests the cheap stuff.
That, my friends, is some bullshit, and as a result, Nixon finds himself in the basement here.
37. William Howard Taft
According to Will-Weber, Taft was a champagne drinker, but he only drank on special occasions (which makes sense, because I’m pretty sure “champagne” means “what you drink on special occasions” in French.)
There’s nothing wrong with that, but I feel like if I hit up Taft to grab a flute at happy hour, he’d turn me down because he didn’t deem that occasion “special” enough. That doesn’t seem like the kind of guy you want as a drinking buddy.
36. Calvin Coolidge
Coolidge also wasn’t much of a drinker, and again, that’s fine. Much like Planet Fitness, this is a judgment-free zone. When Coolidge did drink, he messed around with Tokaji Wine.
If you’ve never heard of that particular varietal, you’re not alone, but it’s apparently a sweet, white wine that comes from the Tokaj region of northeastern Hungary (as a fan of an oaky afterbirth, I don’t think that would vibe with my palate.)
With such a specific taste like that, you also know he’ll be too busy swirling and sniffing the glass to actually pay attention to you. That’s gonna be a no for me, dog.
35. Millard Fillmore
You don’t really meet many Millards these days, do you? Maybe it’ll be one of those names that will come back in style at some point, and the next thing you know, there are four Millards at your kid’s preschool. Crazier things have happened.
As far as drinking goes, ol’ Milly didn’t indulge much, and when he did, he drank a little Madeira, which is a wine that originates from Portugal’s Madeira Islands. In the words of the late, great Alex Trebek: “Good for you.”
34. James Polk
I used to play in a band back in the day and we had a song called “James Polk.” It wasn’t actually about James Polk because that would’ve required any of us to know a single thing about James Polk, which wasn’t the case.
That’s basically still the case, although I am now aware of the fact that the Polkster wasn’t a huge drinker. When he did partake, he liked to mix things up with a rotation of wine, champagne, and brandy, which sounds like a terrible idea unless you’re a huge fan of brutal hangovers.
33. Andrew Jackson
Again, we’re keeping politics out of this, but policies aside, Jackson still had a reputation as a raging asshole with a preference for whiskey. Based on my experience, whiskey is the alcoholic equivalent of a lit match dropped onto a gasoline-soaked pile of old newspapers; you’re just asking for trouble.
Even if you like whiskey, there’s a zero percent chance you’re having some with Jackson without getting into a fight with someone, and unless you like getting whacked with a cane, it seems like it’d be best to avoid finding yourself in that situation in the first place.
32. Herbert Hoover
In his book, Will-Weber says Hoover “supposedly had a fantastic wine collection,” but once Prohibition rolled around, his wife got rid of every single bottle. There’s obviously no way of knowing how he reacted when that happened, but I assume it bore some resemblance to that scene from Goodfellas.
The only real difference is that there’s no way Hoover’s bedroom was even close to being as tacky.
Hoover was a vocal proponent of the 18th Amendment while in office, but he apparently fancied himself a good martini later in life. At least he came to his senses eventually.
31. James Buchanon
Buchanon was a sherry man, and as somewhere who is nowhere close to being as classy (or as old) as you need to be to pull that off, I have a hard time imagining we’d have much in common.
30. Dwight D. Eisenhower
Whether or not you’d like to hang out with Ike would probably be contingent on your tolerance for dealing with copious amounts of cigarette smoke. Eisenhower was a chain smoker, so if you’re sitting down with him to have a drink or two, you’re going to be sucking down a fair amount of secondhand smoke in addition to whatever you’re sipping on.
Given his penchant for chiefing darts, it’s appropriate that Eisenhower was a scotch drinker, and there’s no doubt he’d have plenty of stories to tell over the course of what would likely be a solid night. However, you just know you’ll end up having to hang your clothes in the garage to air them out once it comes to an end.
29. Andrew Johnson
This one is pretty straightforward. Johnson liked whiskey. I like whiskey. I don’t know what we’d talk about, but I’d be more than happy to just sit in silence while nursing a glass. It wouldn’t be the first time and certainly wouldn’t be the last.
28. Woodrow Wilson
SCOTCH GUY ALERT!
According to Will-Weber, “Wilson’s campaign song—’Wilson! That’s All!’— actually came from a brand of whiskey that was popular early in the 20th century.”
Drink your heart out, Ron.
27. James Madison
Madison once said champagne is “the most delightful wine when drank in moderation, but that more than a few glasses always produced a headache the next day,” which might be the realest statement any President of the United States has ever uttered.
It’s so, so true. Champagne is the epitome of a “what goes up must come down” situation. I briefly attempted to become a champagne guy when I was younger only to realize it was a terrible, terrible idea after around two days, so I think it’s safe to say Madison and I would get along.
26. John Tyler
We’ve got another champagne drinker in the form of John Tyler, and once again, that preference is the only thing I know about him. Why did I rank him 26? I don’t know. It just felt right. That’s all I’ve got to say about this one.
25. John Adams
I have hard cider to blame for getting busted by my parents for drinking for the first time, so I’d love to have a chance to sit down and have some with a noted enthusiast of that libation.
With that said, if the HBO miniseries based on his life taught me anything, it’s that Adams loved to talk. As someone who tends to be a bit more reserved when it comes to engaging in conversation, I feel like I’d just be there sipping on my cider while he rambled, occasionally nodding my head while processing close to none of it.
24. Martin Van Buren
Van Buren was such a big fan of whiskey that his nickname was “Blue Whiskey Van,” which would be an incredible name for a band. Hell, I might start one just so I can lay claim to it. Thanks for the inspiration, Marty. I owe you a shot.
23. William McKinley
McKinley used to have a mountain in Alaska named after him, but I’d argue that’s not as cool as having a drink named after you. Do you know what’s even cooler? Having multiple drinks named after you—including the “McKinley’s Delight,” a fun little concoction that consists of:
- 3 oz. rye whiskey
- 1 oz. sweet vermouth,
- 2 dashes of cherry brandy, and
- 1 dash absinthe
That sounds like a recipe for one hell of a night.
22. Franklin Pierce
According to Will-Weber, Pierce “drank a lot of everything,” which sounds awesome until you consider he was primarily known for being in a perpetual state of intoxication, which isn’t the best look—especially when you’re in charge of running a country.
After failing to earn his party’s nomination to serve a second term, he simply shrugged his shoulders and said, “There’s nothing left but to get drunk”—which is exactly what he did until he died of cirrhosis of the liver at age 65.
Welp, that’s kind of a downer, so let’s just move on.
21. Zachary Taylor
I’m just going to let Will-Weber tell you all you need to know:
“During the Mexican War, a political aide reportedly visited to inform Taylor that the Whig Party wished to nominate him for president. Taylor allegedly replied: ‘Stop your nonsense and drink your whiskey!'”
That’s a man who had his priorities in order.
20. Ulysses S. Grant
Based on everything I know about Grant (and that fantastic beard), I kind of assumed he would be another whiskey-drinking president. However, it turns out we’re dealing with another champagne man, which I did not see coming.
Before taking his office and back during his soldiering days, Grant could apparently throw ’em back and sometimes spent the entire day just sitting around drinking, and based on the fate that befell Tyler, deciding to cut down once he got elected was probably a good move.
19. Chester Arthur
Arthur was a big fan of ale. Like, a really, really, really big fan of ale.
However, he also had a tendency to throw some wine and an assortment of after-dinner liquors into the mix on Saturday night, which would often result in an incredibly hungover Chester having to nurse his headache in the carriage he needed to make his way to church—a house of worship that was less than a block from the White House.
18. William Henry Harrison
When Harrison was running for office, his critics said he was too old to be president and suggested the country would be better off if someone provided him with a barrel of hard cider and a cabin to hang out in.
Harrison simply used those attempts at slander to his advantage, claiming that those accusations proved he was one of those regular dudes politicians love being seen as. That’s the kind of craven opportunism you just have to tip your hat to—or, better yet, toast to with a nice, cold glass of some crisp hard cider.
17. James Garfield
Garfield reportedly drank beer “and little else,” and by “little else,” I mean basically no other beverages in any shape or form. If he hadn’t been dead for well over a hundred years, I’d be a little concerned about his well-being.
16. James Monroe
Monroe liked red wine imported from France, which is pretty hard to hate on, but he did find himself at the center of a bit of a scandal because of it.
According to Will-Weber, he found himself under fire “when 1,200 bottles of Burgundy and Champagne from France were charged to an account that Congress had earmarked for furniture.” Thoughts and prayers go out to the lowly White House staffer who was forced to fall on their sword and take the blame for that one.
15. Ronald Reagan
Reagan was quite fond of wines of the California variety, which makes sense when you consider where the actor-turned-president spent most of his life before making his way to the White House.
If we were going to hang out, I imagine we’d post up in the Rose Garden and put a solid dent in a case of bottles from Napa while sharing stories about our experience with show business (I don’t really have any stories in that realm, but I did run into Cuba Gooding Jr. in a hotel lobby one night in Cincinnati, so at least there’s that to fall back on.)
Reagan was also a fan of Orange Blossoms, which Will-Weber says is made with “1 ounce of vodka, 1 ounce of grenadine or sweet vermouth, and 2 ounces of orange juice.” Good God, that sounds delightful. I might have to become a fan of Orange Blossoms too. I’ll keep you posted.
14. Gerald Ford
Growing up is hard. At some point, we all face a moment in our lives where in order to proceed, we have to change our ways. For some, that occurs when they get married or have kids, but for Gerald Ford, that fateful transition came when he became President of the United States.
After stumbling into the role following Watergate, Ford realized his penchant to have a few martinis at lunch probably wasn’t a great tradition to uphold considering the responsibilities he suddenly found himself burdened with. I mean, that’s not the best idea even if you’re not the head of the executive branch, but I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t be down to joined Ford for some cocktails at noon.
13. Harry Truman
Don’t be deceived by Truman’s seemingly mild-mannered appearance. The dude could throw ’em back.
“Truman loved bourbon and quite often knocked down a shot of it in the morning,” Will-Weber wrote. “He also liked a very strong Old Fashioned and would complain if his staff made it too weak.” If he hadn’t been president, Truman would have felt incredibly at home working at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.
12. John Quincy Adams
Adams, like Fillmore, was a Madeira head to a point where Will-Weber says he “once conducted a blind taste test of 14 different kinds of Madeira and correctly identified 11 of them.” That, my friends, is impressive.
JQA would be a good dude to roll with if you were going out to dinner because he’d effectively be your own personal sommelier. That’s the kind of guy you want on your team.
11. Bill Clinton
At first glance, Clinton could be perceived as a solid hang and a quality drinking buddy. However, like Adams, he’s a big fan of hearing his own voice—and an even bigger fan of Snakebites, which consist of equal parts lager and cider.
Some people say it gets you drunk faster because it’s a best-of-both-worlds situation where you’re getting walloped by both ingredients and downing them faster than you intend to (for this reason, some pubs in the United Kingdom refuse to serve them to prevent customers from getting too rowdy, and one owner refused to make an exception for Clinton when he attempted to order one during a trip)
However, if he insists on breaking out the sax, I’m officially out.
10. Warren G. Harding
Harding was allegedly such a big fan of whiskey that he’d keep a bottle in his golf bag and take swigs at each hole before teeing off. Respect, Warren G. Harding. That’s a baller move.
9. John F. Kennedy
JFK definitely devoted more time to hanging out with various ladies than to boozing, but he still knew his way around a drink. His go-to was a Bloody Mary, although he was also down to have a few Heinekens from time to time.
I can’t think of a better brunch partner.
8. Grover Cleveland
Grover Cleveland was a big-time beer drinker to a point where my dude once came to an agreement with a rival politician to limit themselves to “only” four beers a day while campaigning. That lasted only a few days because four beers a day is for amateurs, which Cleveland was not.
7. Lyndon B. Johnson
After suffering a heart attack, Johnson allegedly told his doctor “that the only things he enjoyed in life were “whiskey, sunshine, and sex” and also “enjoyed entertaining at his Texas ranch where the booze flowed.”
Johnson seemed to have his priorities in order and for that, we salute him. The Texan was known for his massive barbeques, where he could be found cruising around the grounds of his estate with a “road soda” (usually Cutty Sark.)
LBJ was a smart drinker, too. Before becoming President, he was Senate Majority Leader, and when holding meetings, he’d often instruct his staff to make his drinks weaker than his guests “so that he could keep a clearer head.”
That, my friends, is the mark of a true professional.
6. George H. W. Bush
According to Will-Weber, Bush was down to drink pretty much anything, but he was partial to vodka martinis and beer, which is a great one-two punch. He also seems like he could’ve spun a nice yarn or two while happily drinking anything that appeared in front of him, so it’s hard to imagine you’d have a bad time.
5. Theodore Roosevelt
The consummate manly man loved himself some Mint Juleps, which I just realized I’ve somehow managed to go throughout life without trying. However, that probably wouldn’t have been the case if I’d ever sat down with Teddy. who frequently pushed them on his guests, enticing them with the promise of mint freshly pulled from the White House garden.
Like any good brand ambassador, Roosevelt had a special way of doing things when it came to making a Mint Julep, and his signature recipe involved:
- 10 to 12 fresh mint leaves muddled with a splash of water and a sugar cube,
- 2 to 3 oz. of rye whiskey,
- .25 oz.
- A sprig or two of fresh mint for garnish
I’ve still never had one, but I think I’m a Mint Julep guy now.
4. Barack Obama
Obama also sourced some supplies from the grounds of the White House to whip up a drink—specifically the White House Honey Ale brewed from the sweet nectar supplied by beehives on the property. I’d love nothing more than to put politics aside and just crush a few glasses of that while talking about basketball, debating the best season of The Wire, and just seeing where the afternoon takes us.
3. Thomas Jefferson
Jefferson was a worldly fella who traveled extensively over the course of his life. He developed taste for red wine while spending some of his younger years exploring vineyards in Burgundy and Bordeaux while in France, and his affinity for the drink never wavered over the course of his life (he apparently spent so much money on wine that he almost went broke because of his, um, hobby.)
Being friends with Jefferson seems like it would pretty sweet. It’s sort of like having a buddy with a boat: you get all of the perks without risking any of the financial ruin.
2. George Washington
Everyone knows that you don’t get high on your own supply, and while Washington distilled and sold his own whiskey, he largely avoided drinking any of it himself. He instead relied on ale (specifically porter laced with molasses,) and while there’s no evidence he ever blazed up the hemp he grew on his property, I like to think he’d be down to smoke a big ol’ fatty before heading into the woods for a day filled with cross-faded tree-chopping.
I know that’s technically outside the scope of this article, but whatever. I’m sticking with it.
1. Franklin D. Roosevelt
FDR played a fairly significant role in bringing Prohibition to a merciful end, and for that, Americans are forever in his debt.
As for his drinking habits, Roosevelt was a bit of a cocktail connoisseur who wasn’t particularly picky when it came to specifics (and when you’re tasked with handling The Great Depression and dealing with a World War, it’s hard to blame him for his tendency to use them to take off the edge.)
FDR also reportedly “kept a martini close at hand and prized the rituals of cocktail hour, when he mixed stiff drinks for friends on his White House study desk.” He is truly a man of the drinking people, and for that, he easily deserves the top spot.