You can still buy a bottle of small-batch whiskey at a re-creation of one of the largest whiskey distilleries of the late-18th century United States. Even better, it was owned by George Washington, the only Founding Father who, when he wasn’t building a nation, was trying to lift its spirits.
Immensely popular during its time, Washington’s distillery was located three miles from his estate in Mount Vernon. Records show that it produced 11,000 gallons of whiskey in 1799, the year of his death. It also produced such delights as peach and persimmon brandy. The distillery was destroyed in a fire in 1814, but resurrected in 2007, and today, conducts tours and whiskey tastings.
The distillery sits next to Washington’s gristmill. Ground corn and rye from the mill went to the distillery, where staff and enslaved workers mashed and cooked them in large wooden vats. The cooked mash was fermented with malted barley and put into copper stills fired by burning wood (the distillery had five of these stills). A tap running water from the stream outside cooled the gaseous alcohol and brought it back to liquid form through condensation. Then, it could then be poured straight from the barrel and imbibed.
Washington’s rye whiskey wasn’t aged, so it didn’t have the rich amber tone of typical whiskey, and the distillery maintains the tradition of unaged, clear whiskey today. (It also now makes and sells the aged kind.) The whiskey, made for sale, is produced only twice a year, so bottles of George Washington’s beloved tipple are truly collector’s items. Proceeds from sales go toward maintaining operations at Mount Vernon.
In 2017, Terry McAuliffe, the governor of Virginia at the time, declared George Washington’s Rye Whiskey the official state spirit of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Know Before You Go
The gristmill and distillery is open April through October. Tickets are included with general admission to Mount Vernon.