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Hoisting a Few with the Founding Fathers: A Little Alcohol History in the U.S.

While it was customary to give sailors a daily ration of rum in the British Navy, it wasn't always a great idea in tropical climates because it made some of them tipsy. So in 1741, while sailing near the coast of what is now Colombia, a British admiral named Edward Vernon diluted rum with water. The sailors dubbed the watered-down drink after Vernon's nickname, which was "Old Grog."

The eminent historian Samuel Eliot Morrison attached two postscripts to the story. One is that it was on this very expedition that British military men began referring to colonial fighters as "Americans," rather than "provincials." The second is that Vernon's surname was eventually adopted by the family estate of an American captain who was along on the trip. The captain's name was Lawrence Washington, and the estate became "Mount Vernon." (By the way, Lawrence Washington had a half-brother named George, who eventually achieved some success as an American.)

One thing the newly-dubbed "Americans" had in common with the British Navy was a love of spirits. By 1795, it was estimated that the average American male over the age of 15 annually consumed 34 gallons of beer and hard cider, five gallons of distilled spirits and a gallon of wine. Sixty distilleries sprang up during the Revolutionary War in Massachusetts alone. And in Kentucky in 1789, residents came up with a corn whiskey that used water flavored by the limestone rocks it flowed over and the charred oak barrels in which it was aged. They named it after their county: Bourbon.

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