Getting into the spirits of ‘76


Most Americans celebrate Independence Day with barbecues, picnics, parades, fireworks or just vegging in front of the television. The only component of our collective Independence Day celebrations that seems to have lost some of the appreciation for its historical importance is the booze.

Sure, we have beer and wine at our July 4 shindigs, but our nation’s ancestors would get thoroughly pickled at such affairs. According to historian William Rorabaugh, a professor of U.S. history at the University of Washington in Seattle, communal binge drinking was so customary at July 4 festivities, that “it was surely no accident that one early temperance society adopted a pledge that allowed its members to become intoxicated on Independence Day.”

Rorabaugh writes in his classic text, “The Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition,” that “during the 1820s no holiday had more import than the 4th of July, a date that would evoke a national intoxication.”
Apparently, Americans drank more alcoholic beverages between 1790 and 1840 than at any other period in our nation’s history — nearly a half pint of hard liquor per person each day.

So what were Americans drinking back then? Well before the American Revolution, it was mostly madeira, hard apple cider, apple brandy, rum and really anything they could get their hands on to distill that wasn’t otherwise being taxed too greatly by the British.

The demand for whiskey increased as supplies of rum ran dry during the American Revolution. After the revolution, the tipple of choice was largely rye whiskey — it was both cheap and plentiful  and American.
Back at the time of our nation’s founding, whiskey and other distilled spirits were seen as staple foods to shake up an otherwise bland diet. Think of it as rye bread versus white bread. Well into the 19th century, whiskey was also thought to be curative, healing colds, fevers and a palliative for aches. At that time, most sources of water were neither clear nor sparkling, nor in any way appetizing.

All of which is to say that straight rye whiskey, the tipple of our nation’s hearty, freedom-loving forebears, should be accorded at least a modicum of respect and is certainly worth at least a sample taste. So consider: Russell’s Reserve 6 Year Old Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey (45 percent abv; $46): This warming, super smooth, fun, light-ish yet wonderful rye offers aromas and flavors of almonds, caramel, honey, vanilla, oak, cherries, banana bread, spicy cinnamon and New York. rye bread. Mild-mannered as rye whiskeys go, but just superb.

For a patriotic, American-made wine when celebrating July 4, a fine choice to consider is: Hagafen Cellars, 2012 Cabernet Franc ($39) a lovely, refined and impressive medium-bodied wine with aromas and flavors of black cherry, ripe plum, dried currant and savory chocolate, with spice and cedar wood, and then a wonderful, complex finish; softening but noticeable tannins and lively acidity make this one to hold for few more years at least, but enjoyable now with a hearty, meaty meal.

The family-owned and operated Hagafen winery is located on Napa’s Silverado Trail between the Oak Knoll and Stag’s Leap appellations and boasts a very popular tasting room. Each of Hagafen’s three wine labels, Hagafen (the primary label), Prix (the high-end line) and Don Ernesto (the quaffable line) are available there.

While Hagafen wines are widely available, the winery also offers direct-to-consumer sales via its website, as well as through three fantastic wine clubs. All Hagafen wines are certified kosher and mevushal (a thermal processing akin to flash pasteurization) under the supervision of the Orthodox Union (OU). L’chaim!

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