Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Real Tavern

Sometime over the summer, my dear friend Andrew and I were walking past Pitt Tavern at Strawbery Banke. We got to talking about how neat it would be if the tavern was open for business as an actual, drinks-serving establishments. However, we both had slightly different visions for how this would work. I think we'd be mostly in agreement on decor (lots of wood, fires in each room, and yes to historically appropriate china punch bowls, delicate wine glasses, and hearty pewter ale mugs).

Andrew, though, leaned more towards a modern rendition of a tavern drinks menu - a few key drinks from the 18th century, but a selection of more modern beverages, including possibly themed beverages like a "John Paul Jones." Andrew, if you're reading this, correct me if I'm wrong, ok?

Being a museum professional and a bit of a purist, I insisted that a town like Portsmouth would have been able to support a drink menu varied enough to appeal to a modern consumer. And so, to support my theory, I've done a bit of preliminary research. More could be done by scouring 18th and early 19 century newspaper and tavern records and I won't rule that out in the future. But for now, let's consider the beverages possibly available in the 18th or 19th century in a seaport town like P'mouth:
  • cider

  • whiskey: corn, wheat, rye & potato varieties

  • beer: from local ales to imported London porters

  • rum and such variations as rum punch, rum & cider, rum & molasses, and flip (beer, rum, and sugar, heated with a red hot poker)

  • elderberry or currant wine

  • fruit cordials

  • claret

  • port

  • Madeira wine

  • gin

  • brandy
In addition, I found a list that Charles Dickens made of the drinks available in an 1842 Boston hotel: gin-sling, "cocktail," sangaree (wine w/ sugar, ice & nutmeg), mint julep, sherry-cobbler, and "timber doodle." No idea what some of these are, but I'm impressed with the selection!

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