Which made me wonder: what about states? America's states have an entire curiosity cabinet of official symbols, from official state butterflies (the Monarch, for example, is claimed by Alabama, Idaho, Illinois, Minnesota, Texas, and West Virginia) to official state desserts (peach pie in Delaware) and fossils (the Stegosaurus in Colorado). State amphibians, state stars, state songs, and state dances... you name the category, and at least a handful of states will have chosen their own official representative for it.
Surely they must all have an official state liquor, too?
Sadly not. As it turns out, only one state—Alabama—has stepped up to the bar, choosing Conecuh Ridge Whiskey (a recreation of a Prohibition-era aged moonshine) as its official beverage in 2004. (Amusingly, the owner was subsequently busted for liquor law violations, and the whiskey is now sold under the name Clyde May's Conecuh Ridge Whiskey).
The idea behind this laundry list of official symbols is to "represent the cultural heritage and national treasures" of each state. It all got started in 1893, when each state had to chose a floral representative to be included in a "National Garland of Flowers" display at the Chicago World's Fair, and continues to grow to this day (some school kids recently succeeded in their campaign to get the cowboy boot recognised as the official state footwear of Texas).
But, despite the importance of alcohol in American culture and history (not to mention human civilisation), all but one of the 27 states that have even bothered to chose an official beverage have gone dry.
Among the 27, an astonishing 19 feel their state is best represented in beverage form by milk, while a couple of others have picked soft drinks (Moxie in Maine, Kool-Aid in Nebraska) and the good people of Indiana actually chose water (no word on whether that's still, sparkling, or tap).
My favorite, however, is Ohio, whose official state beverage is "the canned, processed juice and pulp of the fruit of the herb Lycopersicon esculentum"—also known, among regular human beings, as tomato juice. At least that works as a mixer, I guess.
The process of remedying this regrettable situation and getting a new state beverage officially recognised is, unfortunately, not so simple, as the great Louisiana Sazerac Struggle demonstrates. Back in March 2008, state senator Edwin R. Murray introduced a bill that would have designated the historic whiskey drink as Louisiana's official state cocktail. After several defeats and multiple rounds of revisions, a specially convened committee proposed an acceptable compromise, and the Sazerac was named the official cocktail of the city of New Orleans, rather than the state as a whole.
Meanwhile, a couple of years ago, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver hosted a contest to choose the state cocktail of Colorado (full disclosure: I was one of the judges). The winning recipe included small-batch whiskey and a dash of Alpine Herbal liqueur to capture Colorado's outdoors spirit and rough-and-ready trapping and mining history—but, despite having a brewer for Governor, the Tree Line cocktail has yet to make it through the bureaucratic hurdles to become the state's official drink.
The Treeline, winner of the Colorado Cocktail Project, photographed by Mark Manger.
Given the reluctance of American politicians to be seen to be promoting alcohol consumption, we may never see any growth in the neglected official state booze category. But surely an iconic cocktail, a terroir-driven wine, or a locally made, traditional beer or liquor could help boost a state's profile and generate state spirit? At the very least, we could have some fun trying to decide what each state's drink should be.
In New York, for example, given the state's apple-growing dominance and heritage, I'm going to nominate a really good hard cider. New Yorkers, does that sound right, or do you have a better suggestion? And what should your state booze be? I'm looking forward to seeing/reading what you're drinking in the comments.