Party like it’s 1777: how to ring in the New Year like a founding father

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George Washington accepting command of the Continental Army. George Washington (middle) surrounded by members of the Continental Congress, lithograph by Currier & Ives, c. 1876. Currier & Ives Collection (Courtesy Library of Congress)
George Washington accepting command of the Continental Army, lithograph by Currier & Ives, c. 1876. (Courtesy Library of Congress)

It’s almost New Year’s Eve and here in the Historic Triangle, that means it’s time to party like a Colonial American.

Not judging, but the colonists drank — and not just during the holidays.

George Washington had a distillery at Mount Vernon, according to “Drinking in Colonial America,” a 2007 article in the Colonial Williamsburg Journal. Thomas Jefferson imported alcoholic beverages from France. Benjamin Franklin gathered more than 200 synonyms for inebriated, including “addled,” “cracked” and “halfway to Concord.”

But colonists didn’t drink alcohol to the exclusion of everything else, according to Frank Clark, master of Historic Foodways at Colonial Williamsburg. For one thing, people had to hydrate to survive the summer. And even if some wells or other public water sources came with a risk of contamination, Williamsburg had 10 to 12 clean springs for colonists to choose from.

“They drank water,” said Clark. “They just preferred alcohol.”

Beer and cider were everyday fare. Following the English tastes for wine, colonists drank Madeira. They had rum punch, peach and apple-brandy punch and imported wines. Whiskey became the go-to distilled spirit after the Revolutionary War, when imported rum from the British Caribbean fell into disfavor.

For group gatherings, though, Virginians had a clear favorite.

“They loved punch,” Clark said.

So this New Year, pull out the punch bowl and whip up a batch of Colonial-inspired wassail. Find a shaker and mix a cocktail infused with whisky and pumpkin or cranberry. Pop open some bubbly and blend it with mead. Crank up the crockpot and simmer some mulled wine. Or heat some rum and cider and call it a Stone Fence.

Here’s to all the ways to welcome 2017 like it’s 1777.

(Courtesy Colonial Williamsburg)
Wassail draws on seasonally appropriate ingredients, from citrus juice and cinnamon sticks to red wine and sherry. (Courtesy Colonial Williamsburg)

Wassail

As a holiday beverage, wassail draws on seasonally appropriate ingredients, from citrus juice and cinnamon sticks to red wine and sherry.

As a tradition, wassailing has roots in New Year’s festivities dating back to ancient England, according to The Williamsburg Cookbook.

The custom called for the master of the house to preside over a bowl of spiced ale. He drank to the health of everyone there and passed the bowl, with others repeating the Saxon phrase: “Wass hael.”

Translated, it meant “be whole,” or “be well.”

Which seems like a fine way to ring in 2017.

Here’s a recipe, courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg, that’s bound to leave you and your guests feeling addled in a good way.

Pumpkin and whisky fizz
Shaken, not stirred. A pumpkin-infused Commonwealth Whisky Fizz. (Andrew Harris/WYDaily)

Commonwealth Whisky Fizz

Karen Gattuso, the manager at Williamsburg’s Copper Fox Distillery, has fun playing around with cocktails.

One of her seasonal favorites is a riff on a classic Whisky Fizz mixed with Copper Fox single malt and a pumpkin-maple simple syrup, she said in a recent phone interview.

“So the modern spin on things,” she said.

To make one for yourself, try the recipe here.

Cranberry cider punch
As a cocktail or in a punch bowl, this cranberry-cider concoction will help you ring in the New Year like a colonist. (Andrew Harris/WYDaily)

Cranberry Cider Punch

The key to serving punch is to recognize it’s not a cocktail.

You need to balance the alcohol with sparkling nonalcoholic beverages, such as club soda, ginger beer or ginger ale, so guests enjoy the flavor and make it through the evening, Gattuso said.

For a Colonial-inspired punch, Gattuso suggests mixing club soda or ginger beer/ale with apple cider, unsweetened cranberry juice, single-malt whisky and a rosemary simple syrup.

As an added benefit, it comes in a striking shade of red.

“It’s a really festive drink,” she said.

To mix your own batch, check out this recipe.

Silver Hand Meadery makes a seasonal mead fermented with a honey blend, cider and spices such as vanilla, cinnamon and cloves. (Courtesy Silver Hand Meadery)
Silver Hand Meadery makes a seasonal mead fermented with a honey blend, cider and spices such as vanilla, cinnamon and cloves. (Courtesy Silver Hand Meadery)

Champagne-Mead Cocktail

Before he made mead, Glenn Lavender was a bass guitarist for a Christian rock band.

He read a lot while he traveled, including historical fiction, he said. Books and an interest in beekeeping led him to mead, a fermented alcoholic beverage made with honey, water and yeast. 

Now, as the owner of Williamsburg’s Silver Hand Meadery, Lavender names his beverages with titles inspired by popular songs.

He uses apple cider from the Harrisonburg area for “Dream by the Fire,” a seasonal mead fermented with a honey blend, cider and spices such as vanilla, cinnamon and cloves.

The title comes from a lyric in the holiday song “Winter Wonderland.” The reference inspires a sense of hope for the new year, he explained.

“Hope for what’s to come and the courage to face it,” he said.

For a Colonial-inspired New Year’s cocktail, Lavender suggests a 50-50 mix of champagne and Silver Hand mead. He recommends either “Scarborough Fair,” named for a ballad sung by Simon & Garfunkel, or “Soak up the Sun,” named for a Sheryl Crow song.

The recipes are here.

Rum and cider cocktail
For a marriage of colonial ingredients and modern convenience, ring in the New Year with a warm Stone Fence. (Courtesy The Williamsburg Distillery)

The Stone Fence

When it comes to historically themed beverages, William Dodson Jr., the owner of Williamsburg Distillery, likes wassail.

He warns against traditional egg-based drinks, such as eggnog, because they can spread bacteria.

His favorite Colonial-inspired cocktail? It’s a toasty rum and cider concoction known as a Stone Fence.

Store-bought apple cider is fine and so is hard cider, he said in recent phone interview. No need for an iron pot over a fire. He heats his in the microwave.

“You think it’s so simple,” he said. “But it’s really good warm.”

Click here for the recipe. 

wwspicedwine
With a blend of Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon and spices such as cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, this spiced wine can be served warm or chilled. (Courtesy Williamsburg Winery)

Warm Spiced Wine

With a blend of Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as spices such as cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, Jamestown Cellars Settlers’ Spiced Wine can be served warm or chilled, according to Michael Kimball, assistant vice president of marketing for The Williamsburg Winery.

For the New Year, make it the base for a Colonial-inspired warm spiced wine punch with cider and cinnamon sticks.

You can make it in a crockpot, Kimball added.

“It’s a really good, easy to follow recipe,” he said.

Click here for the recipe.