There’s a good chance that at some point this Fourth of July, you’ll be reminded of our colonial forebears and the challenges that they faced while fighting for our independence. If your thoughts should turn to George Washington, we expect you’ll picture the first president in a politician’s pose or perhaps dressed in his ceremonial military attire. You’ll likely reflect on his ability to lead and inspire the revolutionary army, or perhaps on his steady, pragmatic leadership of the United States’ fledgling democracy. While you likely wouldn’t picture him staggering about the local tavern, extolling the virtues of rum à la Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean, that was very much a part of who the first U.S. president was. Sort of.
It was once believed that the West Indies’ climate and indigenous spices held restorative powers, so Washington accompanied his half brother, who was sick with tuberculosis, to the island of Barbados in 1751. The trip proved unsuccessful—the brother later died of the disease—but Washington’s six-week sojourn on the island introduced him to Barbadian rum, a spirit that the future first president immediately took a liking to. According to Scott Fitzgerald, Mount Gay’s brand ambassador, Washington requested that six barrels of the spirit be served at his inauguration. “When he returned to the United States he developed his political and revolutionary career,” says Fitzgerald, “but what is really cool is that during this time, he was still surrounded by the rum that he drank during his earlier years.”
The cocktail served at Washington’s inauguration was the Fish House Punch (click here for a recipe), which the president discovered at the Schuylkill Fish House in Philadelphia years before. Just what was the rum of Washington’s era like, you ask? The answer might be found in that inauguration punch. “It’s difficult to say without actually tasting it,” Fitzgerald says, “but the reason a lot of these punches came about was to help cover the taste of unlikable or undrinkable liquor. It definitely would have been a rawer, rougher product.”
The nature of Washington’s rum may remain a mystery, but it’s safe to say that if he loved the coarse spirit then, he would fawn over Mount Gay’s latest distillation—Black Barrel. “What makes it distinct is that we use a higher proportion of the copper-pot distillates, which gives increased aromatics without sacrificing balance and smooth flavor,” Fitzgerald says. “We start with white American oak barrels but we finish it in deeply charred bourbon casks, and that imparts really rich, oaky flavor and beautiful spice notes with a long, lingering finish.”