Video: George Washington’s whiskey lives, and you can drink it

posted at 7:31 pm on February 17, 2014 by Mary Katharine Ham

There was a dark time in this country when the recreation of George Washington’s whiskey would have been illegal, with not even the opportunity to jump through regulatory hoops to get permission. These days, our entrepreneurial forefather’s rye whiskey has been brought forth by a group of historians and distillers intent on doing it just like the old days at Washington’s home, Mt. Vernon. There are a few more regulatory hoops than when Washington was alive—they have to dump the alcohol in a brand-new barrel and slosh it for no other reason than the law requires that to call it “rye whiskey”— but the product, Mt. Vernon claims, is the same.

They’ve been perfecting the process since 2009, producing small batches for which there are long waiting lists. The Washington Post covered their progress in 2013:

In the fall of 1799, George Washington wrote to his nephew: “Two hundred gallons of Whiskey will be ready this day for your call, and the sooner it is taken the better, as the demand for this article (in these parts) is brisk.”

The whiskey Washington spoke of was produced in his own distillery, at Mount Vernon, and the popularity of the spirit (in these parts) remains. Mount Vernon historians-turned-distillers have been busy making Washington’s unaged rye whiskey, following his recipe and manual methods, since early this month and will put 1,100 bottles up for sale in April.

The team, led by former Maker’s Mark master distiller Dave Pickerell, has perfected the craft since they began distilling at the old mill twice a year beginning in 2009. (A $2.1 million grant from the distilled spirits industry helped fund the project.) And the demand for their product has grown: The waiting list is more than 4,000 for this year’s batch.

Without electricity, the seven distillers — mostly historians and tour guides at the Mount Vernon estate — chop their own wood to burn and heat the boilers, which are filled with water brought in by a water mill from the adjacent pond. They also grind about 4,400 pounds of locally grown grain and manually churn vats of prefermented grains, known as mash. The process takes three weeks, and they do it twice a year. But guides at Mount Vernon are used to getting their hands dirty. Distillery manager Steve Bashore also runs the blacksmith shop there.

The recipe comes from Washington’s records:

The unaged George Washington Rye Whiskey is the most authentic version of Washington’s whiskey available today. Washington was a detailed record keeper – Mount Vernon’s staff were able to determine from these records the recipe and process of creating whiskey during Washington’s lifetime. Distillers used the same grain recipe (60% rye, 35% corn, and 5% malted barley), mixed and fermented in 120-gallon oak barrels, and double distilled in copper pot stills, just as it was done 200 years ago. According to master distiller, Dave Pickerell, its nose is, “slightly floral, earthy, and grainy,” with a taste that is “surprisingly sweet and mellow,” but with a bit of a bite, characteristic of unaged rye.

Reason TV visited Mt. Vernon to sit in on a demonstration of Washington’s boozy business:

Some say adhering to historical processes means it might not actually taste good:

Peter Carlson’s essay in the June 2010 edition of American History describes the scene at Washington’s Virginia plantation, where, in 1797, the former president installed a 75-by-30 foot distillery and made “very bad rye whiskey” from his neighboring farm’s excess grain. (Carlson interviewed Dennis Pogue, Mount Vernon’s associate director, who politely described the swill as having “a pretty sharp taste.”) No matter about the harsh flavor, though. Washington was a rock star, so, in 1798, his distillery produced 4,000 gallons of the white lighting and sold it for 50 cents per gallon. One year later, Mount Vernon produced 11,000 gallons for public consumption. Cha-ching!

Dave Pickerell, Master Distiller and former Vice President of Operations for Maker’s Mark, who makes Washington’s whiskey, would beg to differ: “By golly, I’d drink that stuff right off the still all day long.”

You can only buy it in person. Since I’m local, I’ll let you know when I know. (Hashtag journalism)


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Freedom in a glass!

I’d like a bottle of Utopia, myself. Or a six pack.

xNavigator on February 17, 2014 at 7:34 PM

I want some…

OmahaConservative on February 17, 2014 at 7:35 PM

I’d try a shot or two but it won’t be giving my JD any competition.

Mini-14 on February 17, 2014 at 7:39 PM

If only we clone the man.

msupertas on February 17, 2014 at 7:39 PM

I’d like to try it…

ladyingray on February 17, 2014 at 7:40 PM

msupertas on February 17, 2014 at 7:39 PM

….could clone the man.

msupertas on February 17, 2014 at 7:40 PM

If he used his neighbor’s throw away grain maybe the grain was bad.

crankyoldlady on February 17, 2014 at 7:41 PM

Jefferson Reserve Rye, and done!

Murphy9 on February 17, 2014 at 7:43 PM

You can only buy it in person.

We’re going to pick up a bottle next weekend. Then, we are going to take the water taxi over to National Harbor and feel vindicated (drinking a flask of George’s finest) over the $24 we paid in parking for a $17 lunch.

bettycooper on February 17, 2014 at 7:45 PM

Obama’s Rainbow Stew..

Mmmmm..Mmmmmm…Mmmmm

Electrongod on February 17, 2014 at 7:46 PM

Obama’s Rainbow Stew..

Mmmmm..Mmmmmm…Mmmmm

Electrongod on February 17, 2014 at 7:46 PM

It ain’t Beluga caviar!

Murphy9 on February 17, 2014 at 7:48 PM

I saw Henry Rollins hosting a “History” Channel show that mentioned that.

The “History” Channel should always be written with quotes or air quotes when discussed at parties.

warden on February 17, 2014 at 7:52 PM

Devil’s Patriot’s Cut.

ToddPA on February 17, 2014 at 7:54 PM

Un-aged rye? Yeah, you might want to keep the cork in that one and save it as a novelty.

M240H on February 17, 2014 at 7:55 PM

—they have to dump the alcohol in a brand-new barrel and slosh it for no other reason than the law requires that to call it “rye whiskey”—

Rules are rules, and those concerning spirits are sacred.

I’d try a shot or two but it won’t be giving my JD any competition.

Mini-14 on February 17, 2014 at 7:39 PM

I too prefer my sour mash. lately its been more Beam than Old #7.

cozmo on February 17, 2014 at 7:55 PM

Gentleman Jack George.

Jack Lords Hair on February 17, 2014 at 7:57 PM

Hmmm … let’s see here . . . . . 1,100 bottles divided by 4,000 on the “waiting list” equals . . . . . . . outta’ my price range, dammit !

listens2glenn on February 17, 2014 at 7:58 PM

I gather that the value of this stuff isn’t that it’s good but that it’s historic.

crankyoldlady on February 17, 2014 at 8:00 PM

We’re going to pick up a bottle next weekend. Then, we are going to take the water taxi over to National Harbor and feel vindicated (drinking a flask of George’s finest) over the $24 we paid in parking for a $17 lunch.

bettycooper on February 17, 2014 at 7:45 PM

.
So … your name’s on the list ?

listens2glenn on February 17, 2014 at 8:00 PM

I’d try a shot or two but it won’t be giving my JD any competition.

Mini-14 on February 17, 2014 at 7:39 PM

I too prefer my sour mash. lately its been more Beam than Old #7.

cozmo on February 17, 2014 at 7:55 PM

Just for fun. Give Clyde May’s a try.

bettycooper on February 17, 2014 at 8:01 PM

Wow. Never knew that. Fascinating. I’m more of a vodka guy, but I’d drink it purely because it’s GW’s.

WhatSlushfund on February 17, 2014 at 8:02 PM

bettycooper on February 17, 2014 at 8:01 PM

A hint of apple, it sounds promising.

I tried all the honey whiskeys until I found one that suited me, Jim Beam Honey. Much better, to my pallet than the others.

I see it is available in Texas, I will give it a try.

cozmo on February 17, 2014 at 8:07 PM

Washington’s unaged rye whiskey, following his recipe and manual methods, since early this month and will put 1,100 bottles up for sale in April.

Too late…Hillary Rodham Rodham has already placed
her order for 1,000 bottles via….
The team, led by former Maker’s Mark master distiller Dave Pickerell

That leaves 100 bottles people….

ToddPA on February 17, 2014 at 8:09 PM

So … your name’s on the list ?

listens2glenn on February 17, 2014 at 8:00 PM

Oh yeh. I guess my comment sounded a little cavalier. A good friend lives on one of the original five farms (now surrounding neighborhoods) and is a member of the Mt. Vernon Ladies Association. Her hubby has been involved in the whiskey effort.

bettycooper on February 17, 2014 at 8:16 PM

Great news. Perfect for sipping when MKH gets in a shouty fest with BOR.

Stick with Evan Williams most of the time, Bulleit for special occasions.

rbj on February 17, 2014 at 8:17 PM

When buying wines or whiskeys I always loved the liberal use of vague terminology.

Like earthy.

One time my uncle and I went to a high brow wine tasting at a vineyard and the server said it had a “smokey” flavor, my drunk uncle blurted out,,

“you mean like a cigar butt in the bottom of an empty coke can?”

He was always a hoot at uppity events. We usually pulled up in a 500 fairlane convertable, top down as it was snowing.

And he bought a case of the stuff.

wolly4321 on February 17, 2014 at 8:18 PM

bettycooper on February 17, 2014 at 8:16 PM

So,what’s up?Come here often?

docflash on February 17, 2014 at 8:21 PM

My son and I made a batch of ‘shine yesterday, he made a still for me for Christmas. Neutral spirits, corn and sugar as a base. It’s actually quite good, smooth (for 180 proof) with some nice subtle flavors. I’m going to try a batch with that mix of rye and corn and see what happens. Oh, and perfectly legal, as long as we don’t sell any. Interesting hobby.

iurockhead on February 17, 2014 at 8:25 PM

wolly4321 on February 17, 2014 at 8:18 PM

LOL. Awesome. Your uncle sounds cool. That just gave me so many ideas. I’m mischievous by nature. I love effing with people. Especially libs. It’s so easy to make their heads explode. Your uncle sounds like he did it with style.

WhatSlushfund on February 17, 2014 at 8:27 PM

iurockhead on February 17, 2014 at 8:25 PM

Nothing 180 proof is ever smooth.

cozmo on February 17, 2014 at 8:29 PM

I too prefer my sour mash. lately its been more Beam than Old #7.

cozmo on February 17, 2014 at 7:55 PM

I’ve grown to like Maker’s Mark for everyday use or mixing. If I want to relax with a good sipping whiskey, though, it’s Crown Royal Special Reserve.

trigon on February 17, 2014 at 8:31 PM

Sorry, but the only presidential whiskey I imbibe, is Alexander Hamilton’s Smooth Continental Rye

Learn To Drink Continentally

HugoDrax on February 17, 2014 at 8:32 PM

My son and I made a batch of ‘shine yesterday, he made a still for me for Christmas. Neutral spirits, corn and sugar as a base. It’s actually quite good, smooth (for 180 proof) with some nice subtle flavors. I’m going to try a batch with that mix of rye and corn and see what happens. Oh, and perfectly legal, as long as we don’t sell any. Interesting hobby.

iurockhead on February 17, 2014 at 8:25 PM

I thought that was illegal. How big is the still?

I’ve always wanted to try some distilling.

trigon on February 17, 2014 at 8:32 PM

iurockhead on February 17, 2014 at 8:25 PM

Nothing 180 proof is ever smooth.

cozmo on February 17, 2014 at 8:29 PM

THREAD WINNER.

ToddPA on February 17, 2014 at 8:32 PM

So,what’s up?Come here often?

docflash on February 17, 2014 at 8:21 PM

Hot Air is like a sunrise, a murder in Baltimore and a bowel movement. In other words, an every day occurrence.

bettycooper on February 17, 2014 at 8:35 PM

iurockhead on February 17, 2014 at 8:25 PM

Man, I just looked at the ATF website. All I have to say is: Don’t get caught.

trigon on February 17, 2014 at 8:38 PM

Oh, and perfectly legal, as long as we don’t sell any. Interesting hobby.

iurockhead on February 17, 2014 at 8:25 PM

Is that based on the state you’re in or does that apply everywhere? My husband and I were thinking of doing up some of our own, for personal use only.

hollygolightly on February 17, 2014 at 8:39 PM

L. Awesome. Your uncle sounds cool. That just gave me so many ideas. I’m mischievous by nature. I love effing with people. Especially libs. It’s so easy to make their heads explode. Your uncle sounds like he did it with style. WhatSlushfund on February 17, 2014 at 8:27 PM

He is unique. Ever go sailing on the Chesapeake with someone that has some form of tourettes syndrome and doesn’t know how to sail? I spent 3 days run aground on Pooles Island.(Army firing range/Aberdeen proving ground)

Coast Guard towed us off.

He’s crazy.

He hitch hiked to Alaska with $700 folded in half and stapled. Wintered over in a tent working on the pipeline. Year later rode a piece of crap motorcycle back with $700 folded in 1/2 with a rusty staple.

Own a B&B he built outskirts of Fairbanks now.

wolly4321 on February 17, 2014 at 8:41 PM

Thunderbird: breakfast of champions.

It’s always breakfast with Thunderbird!

ajacksonian on February 17, 2014 at 8:42 PM

great info tyvm.. MKH…who knew..?
also yet another great spot on BOs show..
you must want to just smack him sometimes.. fast and hard..
he needs to say less and listen more…
good on you for not letting him bully ya..

going2mars on February 17, 2014 at 8:50 PM

trigon on February 17, 2014 at 8:31 PM

Hmmm…
-Preferred mixer is Weller’s, and Coca Cola.
-Sipping is Old#7 or Beam. Maybe a little Turkey once in a while.
-Some Southern Comfort when I’m not feeling well.
-Lately, I do a shot of Jim Beam honey cut about half with RumChata (a Caribbean spiced rum cream liqueur)…Good Stuff.

Tried many, even the expensive ones. I stick with what I like. And those are the ones I like.

cozmo on February 17, 2014 at 8:53 PM

Ever go sailing on the Chesapeake with someone that has some form of tourettes syndrome and doesn’t know how to sail? I spent 3 days run aground on Pooles Island.(Army firing range/Aberdeen proving ground)

Coast Guard towed us off.

wolly4321 on February 17, 2014 at 8:41 PM

Your uncle sounds awesome. Next time you’re stuck, hail us (Sooner on channel 16). We’re not into tows or rescues but we’d have given you a lift to party in Fairlee Creek while you’re waiting for the coasties.

bettycooper on February 17, 2014 at 8:55 PM

He wrecked the motorcycle in Montana on a rr track crossing, crawled to a farmhouse. Flew home wrapped in bed sheets broken to pieces. Johns hopkins in Balt. In serious condition. 1 week, made my dad bust him out and we drove him to Springerville GA.
Got out of the jeep on crutches and one arm slinged. Mailed him soybeans and boots all summer. Picked him up on top of Mt katahdin. MN.

wolly4321 on February 17, 2014 at 8:56 PM

There are a few more regulatory hoops than when Washington was alive—they have to dump the alcohol in a brand-new barrel and slosh it for no other reason than the law requires that to call it “rye whiskey”— but the product, Mt. Vernon claims, is the same.

Same deal with Death’s Door White Whiskey.

When I think whiskey I think of aged-in-the-barrel. I’ve never thought of these glorified moonshines as whiskey, but as white liquor more akin to vodka and gin. For example, I drink the Death’s Door with blueberry juice on the rocks. Not to say that some aren’t very good (I’ve tasted some pretty smooth ‘shine) but to me they’re not whiskey.

I like good whiskey but the prices for premium bourbons are just ridiculous. My everyday whiskey is Evan Williams White Label. I like Bulleit bourbon for a change of pace.

novaculus on February 17, 2014 at 8:58 PM

novaculus on February 17, 2014 at 8:58 PM

Well heck, now I’m gonna’ blow the rest of the night seeing how my thoughts compare to the link you shared.

cozmo on February 17, 2014 at 9:05 PM

Thunderbird: breakfast of champions.

It’s always breakfast with Thunderbird!

ajacksonian on February 17, 2014 at 8:42 PM

Classic! From one of HA’s perennially erudite and informative commenters! :)

Murphy9 on February 17, 2014 at 9:05 PM

I simply can’t do whiskey. Maybe a shot on a blue moon.

It makes me 10′ tall and bulletproof.

I’m part Cherokee.( more than warren)

I’ll stick to beer and wine.

wolly4321 on February 17, 2014 at 9:06 PM

Perhaps my only regret about my several years of living in the DC area was never having purchased a bottle of GW’s Whiskey.

Texas Zombie on February 17, 2014 at 9:11 PM

wolly4321 on February 17, 2014 at 9:06 PM

For you

So its early, sue me.

cozmo on February 17, 2014 at 9:11 PM

Tito’s Handmade neat or chilled.

Murphy9 on February 17, 2014 at 9:14 PM

So its early, sue me.

cozmo on February 17, 2014 at 9:11 PM

Never too early according to:

Thunderbird: breakfast of champions.

It’s always breakfast with Thunderbird!

ajacksonian on February 17, 2014 at 8:42 PM

bettycooper on February 17, 2014 at 9:15 PM

5-6 shots and I’m staring up at Andre the giant over some imaginary slight saying,

” you want some of me, punk? ”

It never ends well.

wolly4321 on February 17, 2014 at 9:15 PM

When they mention a waiting list, they actually mean a email list/call list. You can’t “reserve” a bottle the last I knew. You sign up to be notified prior to the next batch going for sale. Then they contact you with the date, and if you are interested you show up and get in line. Sometimes they sell out the same day it goes on sale, sometimes not. The very first time it was offered they did sell out that day.

I have given my husband two bottles of George Washingtons Whiskey. One bottle is from the second batch that went for sale to the public, and that was $95.00 (2009 I think). Only 375ml, and a rather murky liquid with bits floating. The bits seem to have dissolved over the years, LOL. The other bottle is from the first batch that was aged (for more than two years)and sold in 2011. It is amber colored and also has floating bits, 375ml. $185.00.

I won’t let him open them.

For that I gave him a bottle of Macallan 15 yo.

GrandeMe on February 17, 2014 at 9:20 PM

. bettycooper on February 17, 2014 at 8:55 PM

You know that big hurricane that slammed MD around 69-70?

We evacuated. He packed up the kayak and went down the Gunpowder river from Prettyboy damn.

He’s slowed down now after hitting a wild horse on the Al-Can highway in a Mustang(irony) convertable. They had to peel back his face to reconstruct the bones.

Ever had a family member that gets hurt a lot? His list on bones is long. Metal pins galore. Onr working eye.

wolly4321 on February 17, 2014 at 9:28 PM

Meh. As someone who doesn’t drink alcohol at all, this is a big bore.

Unless we find Hillary and strap her down under a keg with the spout turned on full……

There’s always hope!

Vanceone on February 17, 2014 at 9:29 PM

It ain’t for eating, it’s for looking through.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=csEzTwKemwY&feature=youtube_gdata_player

wolly4321 on February 17, 2014 at 9:41 PM

wolly4321 on February 17, 2014 at 9:41 PM

I like that flick. And that scene.

cozmo on February 17, 2014 at 9:49 PM

trigon on February 17, 2014 at 8:32 PM

Check your state laws, but distilling whiskey (or other spirits) for personal use in limited quantities is perfectly legal. And an interesting process. Seven gallons of mash gets us about 2/3rds gallons of stout stuff, in the 90% alcohol range. And out last batch was considerably better than the commercial brand, Everclear. And as I said, for 180 proof (a necessary qualifier), quite smooth.

iurockhead on February 17, 2014 at 9:51 PM

So, like I said, this friend of mine that has make some whiskey (I’m sure with the proper permits) turned out some good stuff. Me, I’m just making some Washington style beer. (whistles, walks off…..)

iurockhead on February 17, 2014 at 10:17 PM

listens2glenn on February 17, 2014 at 8:00 PM

.
Oh yeh. I guess my comment sounded a little cavalier. A good friend lives on one of the original five farms (now surrounding neighborhoods) and is a member of the Mt. Vernon Ladies Association. Her hubby has been involved in the whiskey effort.

bettycooper on February 17, 2014 at 8:16 PM

.
[ "Sheer jealousy" ]
.
.
Okay, I vented that out . . . . . God bless you, your friend, and her “hubby” … : )

listens2glenn on February 17, 2014 at 11:06 PM

wolly4321 on February 17, 2014 at 9:41 PM

.
I like that flick. And that scene.

cozmo on February 17, 2014 at 9:49 PM

.
The list of commenters here, who would not agree with you, is very short.
.
We could spend the rest of the night posting other pieces of great script lines from that film.

One that has regular opportunities for use in comments posted at Hotair.com :

Fletcher (actor John Vernon) – “And there’s another old saying, senator. Don’t piss down my back and tell me it’s raining.”

listens2glenn on February 17, 2014 at 11:30 PM

I want a bottle
To drink a toast
To that fine man
On July 4th

AshleyTKing on February 18, 2014 at 12:16 AM

I hope there will be a warning label on the bottle for people with wooden teeth.

Shy Guy on February 18, 2014 at 1:21 AM

Nice post MKH. Can’t wait to read the follow up report.

Knob Creek for the regular swill (and for machine gun shoots too!)

Pappy Van Winkle 23 for special occasions, January 19, 2017 in particular

Franklin100 on February 18, 2014 at 7:07 AM

I, for one, refuse to drink the whiskey produced with a recipe penned by our racist first POTUS, a privileged man known to be a white, slave-owning proponent of political ideas that perpetuate social injustice — namely, a general lack of food stamps and publicly funded healthcare.

brentspolemics on February 18, 2014 at 8:31 AM

Obama’s Rainbow Stew..

Mmmmm..Mmmmmm…Mmmmm

Electrongod on February 17, 2014 at 7:46 PM

Served with a side of unicorn cud pies…Mmmmmmm…Mmmmmm…Mmmmmm

Deafdog on February 18, 2014 at 8:53 AM

*hic*

vnvet on February 18, 2014 at 9:35 AM

This stuff is HARSH. I had some last year. It is about $100 for a pint and you have to go pick it up at Mt. Vernon yourself. Pretty cool, though, all things considered.

‘Murika

mumbojumbo on February 18, 2014 at 11:29 AM