A Cozy Cocktail with Presidential Panache

Rye, cherry, and vermouth compose this wintertime warmer with a nod to George Washington

Photo: Niki Nero

The four founding fathers who went on to become president had at least one other thing in common: They all loved a good drink. “James Madison consumed a pint of whiskey a day,” says Suzanne Pollak, the dean of the Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits, which offers courses in cooking and entertaining. “Thomas Jefferson imported 20,000 bottles of wine during his presidency, John Adams began each day with hard cider before breakfast, and George Washington sold what he called ‘common whiskey.’”

In a nod to those who helped shape America—especially George Washington—Pollak created the Founding Father, a wintertime riff on a classic Remember the Maine cocktail, which typically includes some combination of rye whiskey, vermouth, absinthe, and cherry liqueur. After Washington’s second term in office, he built a distillery at Mount Vernon, setting up the whole supply chain on the grounds: His enslaved laborers grew and harvested the grains, ground the flour in the on-site grist mill, and converted the grains to whiskey, Pollak explains, resulting in about 10,000 gallons a year. 

For her twist on the cocktail, “I decided to do a rinse of the glass with Pernod, so there’s just a tiny hint of that flavor, and I heat the whole thing up—like you’re boiling the spirits in a saucepan,” Pollak says. “It’s so much better warm, and I garnish with a cherry in honor of George Washington and his cherries.” (Yes, the subject of the apocryphal “chopping of the cherry tree” did grow cherry trees on his land). 

At one of her weekly Sip with Suzanne virtual cocktail hours back in January, Pollak showed the attendees how to whip up her concoction, and the prolific, Georgia-born trombonist Wycliffe Gordon attended to perform a song and talk about Martin Luther King Jr.—another figure that Pollak considers a founding father of America. “Everybody loved the cocktail,” she reports—but it is strong. “This drink has to be treated with respect—you probably won’t want more than one.” To make it at home, she recommends heating it up and splitting it between two people so the leftover doesn’t get cold, and using a silver cup that retains the heat better, or a small champagne coupe for a toast. “I can just see the founding fathers having something like this,” Pollak says. “It’s sophisticated, with a lot of personality.”

photo: Niki Nero


  • Founding Father (Yield: Up to two cocktails)

    • 2 oz. rye whiskey

    • 1 oz. vermouth

    • 2 tsp. Heering cherry liqueur

    • ½ tsp. Pernod

    • 1-2 cherries, for garnish


  1. Pour whiskey, vermouth, and cherry liqueur into a small saucepan over low heat until warm and stir.  

  2. Rinse a silver cup or champagne coupe with the Pernod. Pour the warm cocktail into the champagne coupe and garnish with a cherry.