Drink Whiskey Like George Washington

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History buffs and whiskey aficionados, get thee to Virginia.

Tomorrow at 10am, one of the biannual sales of rye whiskey produced in Mount Vernon's historically accurate distillery will open to the public for in-person purchases only. After taking several centuries off, distillers have been producing whiskey there since 2009, following the same detailed recipe and records left by the nation's first president 210 years before.

After leaving the presidency in 1797, George Washington returned to Mount Vernon and hired Scottish plantation manager James Anderson to help him run the pastoral estate. Anderson convinced Washington, then 65, that the rye he had been growing periodically as a cover crop could be turned into whiskey. After a successful first batch that winter, Washington approved the building of a distillery on the property. At 2250 square feet and boasting five copper stills, the distillery was immediately the largest and most profitable in the country.

However, the distillery fell into disrepair following Washington's death in 1799 and was left in ruins after an 1814 fire. And when the Commonwealth of Virginia purchased the landmark site in the 1930s, the gristmill was restored, but the distillery was left untouched in response to the pressures of Prohibition. During the 1990s and 2000s, archeologists working on the site took interest in reconstructing the distillery and a completed model was opened to the public in 2007.

The whiskey made there each year is produced without the benefits of modern technology. Distillers chop wood to heat the boilers, grind the grain by hand, and manually churn vats of prefermented grains. But don't let all that artisan care—or the $95 price tag—fool you: Just like it would have been in Washington's time, the whiskey is unaged, giving it a grainy flavor.

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May 15, 2014 - 5:30pm
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