updated 4/4/2006 10:35:36 AM ET 2006-04-04T14:35:36

A month after the American colonists issued their Declaration of Independence, Gen. George Washington made plans to defend New York against a British attack. He also put in his order for wine, brandy and an assortment of liqueurs.

Washington’s order is recorded in a military memo owned by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, a trade group. Dated Aug. 7, 1776, it bears the name of Gen. Thomas Mifflin, quartermaster general for the future president’s forces.

The document was shown at a reception recently at the National Press Club, along with paintings of American distilleries by Scottish artist Ian Gray, and at a whiskey trade show in Chicago. Usually it is unavailable to the public and kept at the council’s headquarters in Washington.

“As commander in New York, Washington had to maintain a table for his top officers and guests,” Dennis J. Pogue, associate director for restoration at Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens, Washington’s Virginia home, said in an interview. “He didn’t drink it all himself.”

Washington’s list called for:

  • 1 box Claret
  • 1 Cag. Brandy
  • 1 box Muscat wine
  • 1 Basket Cordials
  • 1 box Ratafia
  • 2 Cheeses — old — 58 lb

Pogue said a “box” was probably a case containing an even number of bottles, perhaps 12 or 16; a “cag.” was probably a keg — the standard barrel of the time contained 31 gallons. Ratafia was a cordial flavored with fruit kernels or almonds.

Washington drank, in moderation, a variety of alcohol but favored fortified wines, like Madeira, and porter, a thick, dark, sweetish beer, Pogue said.

When he retired as president in 1797 and returned to Mount Vernon, Washington built one of the biggest distilleries in Virginia on land he owned about two miles from his home. Reconstruction is under way on a replica expected to be finished by September and opened to visitors in April 2007.

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