Early Americans enjoyed their alcohol
On October 21, 1797, Captain James Sever christened the new ship by breaking a bottle of America’s adopted spirit on her bow. Old Ironsides, the famous USS Constitution, was one of three ships built because of the Navy act of 1794. America’s adopted spirit became the preferred drink of the early American gentry.
Toast to American independence
The launching of Old Ironsides was not the first time Americans used this sought-after drink to celebrate an American historical milestone. The continental congress used this drink to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The men of the continental congress knew the importance of the documents they were signing, and a drink was necessary to commemorate this occasion. The men signing the document were unsure if the English crown would treat them as criminals. Only a glass of America’s unique spirit would do as it was the preferred toasting beverage of its time.
The Founding fathers preferred Madeira Wine
George Washington, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and others enjoyed drinking this beloved wine imported from a Portuguese island several hundred miles above North Africa. The island was on a popular trade route; therefore, the locally produced Madeira wine became well known throughout North America. North America became the largest importer of the Madeira wine barrels produced.
The first aged at sea experiment?
The spirit would travel better as a wine after being fortified with alcohol. Initially enhanced with distilled sugar cane alcohol, it eventually was fortified with whiskey. Long voyages rounded out the edges of the spirit through extensive exposure to heat and the repeated rocking of the boats. Ultimately, the island of Madeira began building greenhouse-style storage buildings to age their wine and avoid the expense of long sea voyages. Because Madeira was a fortified wine, the alcohol content was higher, and it would not spoil quickly. The higher potency was another reason colonials such as George Washington enjoyed this beverage.
Why discuss Madeira wine in a Bourbon Whiskey blog?
Not only is Madeira wine historical and mentioned in some of the most significant events in American history, but today you can find Madeira fortified bourbons. Thomas S. Moore has a bourbon release finished in used Madeira wine casks, and you can see our review here. Blackened whiskey features cask aging in used Madeira and rum casks in their Rye the Lightning bottle release. Breckenridge Madeira cask finish and Belle Meade Madeira cask finish are two other examples of American whiskey mingled with Madeira wine.
Madeira is rare and only available from Portugal. It is available dry to sweet with the sweeter versions used for whiskey expressions. Thank you for indulging my ever-present interest in American history.