Whiskey Nips: George Washington and Whiskey

Whiskey is ingrained in America's history. It was common for the frontiersman to take their left-over grains and distill them, instead of letting them go to waste. The whiskey that they produced became a commodity, and they were able to trade and barter with it, as well as drink it themselves. Because of its popularity, it also became a great business venture.

In 1797, the largest distillery in the U.S. was located in Mount Vernon, Virginia. The owner and operator of this distillery was a founding father of this country, George Washington. What attracted him the most was the business potential in a distillery, but he also enjoyed consuming spirits in moderation. His farm manager, at the time, had experience distilling in Scotland, and convinced him that his crops and water supply were sufficient enough to support this business.

His distillery had five copper pot stills which produced nearly 11,000 gallons annually at peak production. In comparison, the average distillery at the time had one or two stills and produced 650 gallons annually. The most common spirit produced was a rye whiskey comprised of 60% rye, 35% corn, and 5% malted barley. It became one of the most successful pieces of the Mount Vernon economy. George Washington died in 1799, and the distillery only lasted until 1814 when it burned down.

In 2007, the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association recreated George Washington’s distillery on the original property. When recreating the distillery, archaeologists discovered remnants of the original distillery and figured out where the five copper stills sat as well as evidence to the rest of the layout. The design was intended to stay true to the original distillery, even made with hand finished wood and hand wrought nails. The recreated distillery is fully functional. It produces and sells whiskey, and brandy, under the George Washington name.


Tony Freund