CRAFT by Under My Host® Issue No. 17 Made in America: Part II - Page 33

I was recently nominated and elected to make Rye Whiskey at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Distillery this past March by Lisa Wicker, an old friend and owner of the distillery consulting firm, Saints and Monsters, LLC. My traveling partner was another old friend, Alan Bishop, the Head Distiller at Spirit of French Lick in Indiana. My new friend and Director of Historic Trades at Mount Vernon, Steve Bashore, was our contact at the distillery. It was an absolute honor to go and be involved with this historic facility, and my excitement grew each day as I got closer to leaving. This small account of my experience wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t start with a little history of the operation. George Washington was President of the United States from 1789 until 1797 and was the only Founding Father that owned a distillery. Towards the end of his second term, he was trying to get more profit from his property and was approached by his newly hired farm manager, James Anderson, about opening a distillery. The gristmill that had been built in 1770, an exist- ing cooperage, and the amount of acreage that Washington owned (8,000 acres) led Anderson to suggest the infrastructure was in place for a dis- tillery. Anderson had experience distilling in Scotland and Virginia, so his son, John, and a couple of slaves worked two stills in the cooperage that were on Washington’s land. These stills produced 600 gallons in 1797, which sold well and led Washington to agree to construct a large, dedicated distillery. His interest in the endeavor showed he was at the forefront of the farming practices of the times. They began construction in 1797 and completed it the following year. Even with the 3,600 distilleries in the Virginia census of 1810, Washing- ton’s was one of the largest at 2,250 square feet. Most distilleries at the time only ran one or two pot stills and for only one or two months out of the year. Mount Vernon’s distillery had five pot stills and used them all year long. Along with the two stills from the cooperage, the other three stills were made by local Alexandria Coppersmith, George McMunn. In 1799, they produced 11,000 gallons of whiskey with the capacity of the five stills at 616 gallons combined. Included in the equipment were 50 bar- rels used for cooking and fermenting the mash all around the property. The 120-gallon mash tubs were filled from a 210-gallon boiler, with the com- mon rye being distilled twice. The mash bill was 60 percent rye, 35 percent corn and five percent malted barley. Special batches would be distilled up to four times, and some of the whiskey had flavors, like cinnamon, added. Apple, peach and persimmon brandy was made, as well as a small amount of vinegar. Whiskey became the spirit of choice in the United States after the Revolution, due to the cost of molasses coming from the British West Indies and America’s dislike for the British and their commodities. Of course, during Washington’s time of distilling, whiskey wasn’t bottled © Hundred-to-One LLC 2018. All rights reserved.