For June 17 we’re mixing up the Diplomat cocktail to recognize the anniversary of the 1972 break in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Office Building. This, of course, led to a major scandal rather than hilarity when the involvement of then-President Nixon’s administration became apparent. Eventually, as investigators closed in and impeachment proceedings loomed, Nixon established his infamy as the only US President to resign.
But he did drink, so at least he had that as a positive attribute. He was a real lightweight, you see, and here at The Drunkard’s Almanac we figure that’s the root of his downfall. The Watergate scandal itself has been rehashed thousands of times, so we’ll stay on topic with the drinking.
Nixon and Booze
Richard Nixon’s finest and worst moments, from the establishing a relationship with China to his eventual resignation, involved alcohol. But all along the way he was known as a cheap date, easily intoxicated and a concern to staff. Drunkenness and possession of the nuclear launch codes is a worrisome mix.
Sure, he lived up to his nickname of ‘Tricky Dick’ at White House Dinners by having waiters wrap the bottles of wine being served in towels as they poured him Chateau Lafite Rothschild while serving rather plebian fare to other attendees. But the more amusing side of his drinking history concerns diplomatic events.
Back in the days of the Cold War every US President had to deal with Russian vodka and Chinese Maotai here and there. Our observant readers already know what vodka is, but Maotai is new here at The Drunkard’s Almanac.
It’s a style of baijiu, a distilled spirit made in the town of Maotai from fermented sorghum. It’s highly potent, usually bottled at 55% ABV. Its taste can be somewhat startling to the uninitiated, as CBS correspondent Dan Rather called it “liquid razor blades.”
Nixon’s greatest triumph was probably his visit to China in 1972. Alexander Haig, Nixon’s Chief of Staff, knew that there were likely to be some celebratory Maotai toasts and was worried. He knew Nixon was a notorious lightweight and issued a memo. It read:
“UNDER NO…REPEAT…NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD THE PRESIDENT ACTUALLY DRINK FROM HIS GLASS IN RESPONSE TO BANQUET TOAST.”
This apparently worked, and the President appeared to stay reasonably sober.
But he didn’t stay that way. As forces closed in toward the end of his presidency he became known as a drunk dialer. Haig would quietly hang up his phone when he eventually passed out on late calls.
The Diplomat Cocktail
It wasn’t easy finding a drink appropriate to the Watergate break in. Drinks served at the hotel bar there are uninspiring, and while we briefly considered several of the drinks named Smoking Gun they all require odd ingredients like smoked vodka or a smoking machine. So as we often do we turn to classics.
As we described, Nixon’s best moments related to diplomacy. And he was also a lightweight. Hence, it seems the Diplomat cocktail, straight out of Harry Craddock’s oft-cited The Savoy Cocktail Book, is most appropriate. It’s a low-ABV aperitif, and in the hands of a lightweight president it poses less danger than, say, FDR’s Dirty Martinis or the Daiquiris that JFK was fond of.
- Nick and Nora or coupe glass
- 2 oz Dry vermouth
- 1 oz Sweet Vermouth
- 1 tsp Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
- Garnish: Cherry and lemon twist