Taste the white whiskey that the United States’ first president once distilled and enjoyed at Mount Vernon.
After leaving the presidency in 1797, George Washington settled into a comfortable retirement as one of the new nation’s largest producers of whiskey—if not the largest.
That wasn’t the founding father’s intention when he left office for his pastoral home of Mount Vernon in Virginia. But his newly hired plantation manager, a Scot named James Anderson, proposed a distillery after noticing that Mount Vernon had most of the necessary infrastructure (a water supply and gristmill) as well as plenty of rye, which enslaved workers planted as a cover crop.
Washington had to be talked into the enterprise, but it quickly proved successful. Within two years, his distillery was producing nearly 11,000 gallons of white whiskey that sold for over $100,000 in today’s dollars—a nice, alcohol-soaked profit. Washington’s whiskey was neither bottled nor aged, but sold in wooden barrels for 50 cents a gallon.
The distillery had a short run, as it fell into disrepair after Washington’s death in 1799 and eventually burned down. But in 2007, the distillery was resurrected, and it’s now open to the public and selling bottles of whiskey and brandy. The stills are re-creations of those used by Washington’s staff and enslaved workers, and the recipe, like in the 18th century, is 60 percent rye, 35 percent corn and 5 percent malted barley. Unlike in Washington’s day, some of the whiskey is now aged. (The unaged stuff is clear.)
As for Washington himself, he was known to enjoy his whiskey on occasion. But he was more of a Madeira man.
Need to Know
Bottles of Washington’s Whiskey (and brandy) are available for purchase at the Mount Vernon distillery. They’re not sold online, and they sell out quickly. (A large distillery in 1799 is small by today’s standards.) But if you try a tipple, be careful. As Steve Bashore, Mount Vernon’s director of historic trades and current head distiller, told Food and Wine, “For some people, unaged whiskey is a little strong.” The distillery and grounds are open to the public seasonally. Note that the distillery and gristmill are located a short distance from the main Mount Vernon entrance.