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Pomp, ceremony and cocktails for celebration week

"MY American Dream cocktail reflects the flag - the colors, the stars," said Chicago master mixologist Bridget Albert. "I'm trying to put the sense of hope and excitement with Obama in a glass."

Her tart red drink garnished with blueberries and white fondant stars will be served on Tuesday at the Hawaii State Society Inaugural Ball at the Mandarin Oriental hotel, one of dozens of balls to be held in Washington around Inauguration Day.

Albert's mix of Pama pomegranate liqueur, black cherry rum, Pom Wonderful pomegranate cherry juice and fresh sour mix is heavy on American symbolism. "I wanted cherry notes," she said. "There's nothing more American than cherry pie."

A presidential inaugural event is as good as it gets for wine and spirits placements, which is why Pama's public relations agency started contacting ball coordinators right after the election, explained Laura Baddish of the Baddish Group.

"There are no guarantees that President Obama will show," cautioned Hawaii ball organizer Micah Mossman. "This isn't one of the 10 official ones organized by the Presidential Inaugural Committee." Never mind. Mossman said the official ball he attended in 2004 charged US$10 a bottle for beer and featured no special cocktails.

Canada's Crown Royal whiskey has developed the Crown Royal 44 cocktail to serve at the Illinois State Society Ball. Maybe Hillary Clinton will swing by to swig a shot, reliving her famous campaign moment.

The first Inaugural Peace Ball at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum is billed as the largest gathering of peace activists outside a protest. Joan Baez and Graham Nash will sing, Harry Belafonte will host, and speakers include writer Alice Walker, comedian Dick Gregory and Democracy Now's Amy Goodman. Attendees can sip two original cocktails such as the Situation Rum - they're still firming up the rum donor - and beers like Samuel Adams or Anchor Steam's Liberty Ale.

Even now, some organizers don't know exactly what they're pouring because they're still jockeying for donations. Others clearly don't see the importance of drink. "Drinks are petty, and I have better things to do than talk about the ones being served," said Ron Gaines of the Audacity of Hope Ball at the Fairmont hotel.

Then there's the issue of whether the drinks fit with an event's theme. The Kentucky Society Bluegrass Ball on January 19, naturally, is setting up a bourbon trail with tastes of some of my faves, including Woodford Reserve, Maker's Mark and Bulleit. "Bourbon history is American history," publicist Honi Goldman said.

Ticket prices bear no relation to the drinks being poured. The star-studded Creative Coalition Ball, with tickets at US$10,000 to US$100,000, is featuring Pepsi. OK, it's the party's sponsor.

Fortunately for Barack Obama, the first wines he'll sip as president include some nice Californians, though one of them poses a foreign-relations test. At the inaugural congressional lunch at the Capitol, right after the swearing-in ceremony, the wines will include 2007 Duckhorn Vineyards sauvignon blanc (US$30) and 2005 Goldeneye pinot noir (US$55). Two hundred dignitaries will toast the new president with 15 magnums of Korbel Natural sparkling wine (US$15). It's labeled "California Champagne," so don't show the French.

For top wines on this day, avoid the inaugural crowds and head to chic D.C. restaurant Proof. Wine director Sebastian Zutant is pouring unlimited glasses of one of my favorite French grower champagnes, Pierre Peters Blanc de Blancs, at the buffet brunch (US$75), where you can watch the swearing-in on television.

Even better, the restaurant's post-ball event (US$250) features flutes of 2000 Dom Perignon, 2002 Cristal and Krug Grande Cuvee. Now that's my idea of how to toast President Obama into office.


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