If you ask anyone to name a famous American historical figure, chances are the first name you’ll hear is George Washington. Washington, known for his leadership during the Revolutionary War and for being the first President of the United States, holds an undeniable place of honor in American history. However, beyond the iconic image of the stern-faced, powdered-wig-wearing Founding Father, George Washington was a man of many interests, not the least of which was his fondness for whiskey.
Before the cherry tree myth and before he became the figurehead of a new nation, George Washington was a farmer and businessman. He was known for his successful agricultural exploits on his Mount Vernon estate in Virginia. But as time went on, his interest turned from farming to a more intoxicating pursuit: distilling. This hobby wasn’t merely a casual pastime – Washington had such a fondness for whiskey that he eventually constructed one of the largest distilleries of his time.
What began as a fondness turned into a business venture as Washington saw the financial potential in whiskey production. In the late 18th century, whiskey was not just a popular drink; it was a form of currency in the western frontier and an integral part of the American economy. For Washington, a savvy businessman and whiskey aficionado, the idea of having his own distillery was both appealing and profitable.
George Washington’s appreciation for whiskey wasn’t a well-kept secret. In fact, it’s so well-documented that it might surprise those who only know him from history books. This is the story of a Founding Father and his deep-rooted love for whiskey.
George Washington’s Love of Whiskey
Although Washington enjoyed a variety of spirits, he had a particular fondness for whiskey. His love of the liquor was so well known that when he ran for the House of Burgesses, the legislative assembly in colonial Virginia, in 1758, he is said to have secured votes by offering barrels of whiskey and other spirits to his constituents.
Whiskey also played a significant role in Washington’s military career. During the Revolutionary War, it was common for troops to be supplied with rations of whiskey, and Washington’s troops were no exception. The general himself was known to enjoy a nip now and then. He viewed it not only as a personal indulgence but as a necessary comfort for his soldiers during harsh conditions.
Despite his love for the drink, Washington wasn’t indiscriminate. He had a discerning palate and a preference for quality spirits. His favorite whiskies were those distilled in his native Virginia and in Pennsylvania, then considered some of the best in the country.
Washington’s affinity for whiskey wasn’t just limited to his personal consumption and military provision. As a businessman, he recognized the economic potential of the spirit. Whiskey was a popular commodity, and in the late 18th century, it was starting to become an industry in its own right. He loved it so much that he decided to build his own distillery.
George Washington’s Distillery
Washington’s venture into distillation began in earnest in 1797, after he had concluded his second term as president and returned to his Mount Vernon estate. Encouraged by his Scottish farm manager, James Anderson, who had experience in distilling, Washington constructed a distillery on his estate.
By 1799, the distillery was fully operational and was producing large quantities of whiskey. At its peak, it was producing 11,000 gallons a year, making it one of the largest whiskey distilleries in America at the time. Washington was deeply involved in the distillery’s operation, suggesting that his interest was more than a mere financial investment. He was actively involved in its day-to-day operation, even during his retirement.
The distillery produced rye whiskey, which was popular during the period. Washington’s recipe was unique, consisting of a mix of 60% rye, 35% corn, and 5% malted barley, which produced a distinctively smooth and robust spirit.
What Happened to George Washington’s Distillery?
After Washington’s death in 1799, the distillery continued operation under the care of his wife, Martha. However, without Washington’s direct involvement, the distillery began to decline. It was destroyed by fire in 1814 and was not rebuilt. For almost two centuries, Washington’s distillery was largely forgotten.
The story doesn’t end there, though. In the early 21st century, Mount Vernon, with the support of the Distilled Spirits Council and the state of Virginia, began an ambitious project to reconstruct the distillery based on its original design and specifications.
The reconstruction project, completed in 2007, was painstakingly accurate, replicating the 18th-century techniques and equipment used in the original distillery. Today, visitors to Mount Vernon can tour the fully functional distillery and even taste whiskey made using Washington’s original recipe.
Visitors can also purchase bottles of George Washington’s Rye Whiskey. These bottles are more than just souvenirs – they’re a sip of history, a taste of George Washington’s legacy that extends beyond politics and into the rich, amber depths of his favorite spirit. If you’ve ever wondered about the man behind the myth, a trip to his whiskey distillery might just offer a more personal, and flavorful, perspective.