George Washington Was One Of America's Top Whiskey Producers
Founding Father George Washington was known for disliking political parties, but in his final years, he became the life of the party as the top whiskey producer in the country.
In 1797, Washington was preparing to step down from the presidency and spend his remaining years on his Mount Vernon plantation. Also, at this time, his new farm manager, a Scottish immigrant named James Anderson, came to Washington with a proposal: a whiskey distillery at Mount Vernon.
The plantation was perfect for whiskey production. Mount Vernon already had a water supply and a gristmill, and the crops of the plantation, particularly rye, meant that the ingredients were already there. Rye was planted in Mount Vernon as a cover crop, meaning that it was there to protect the other crops rather than to be harvested on its own. A whiskey distillery would give the rye a purpose after being harvested.
After hearing Anderson’s case, Washington agreed to create the distillery, and it was ready to produce whiskey in spring 1798. During 1799, in its first full year of operation, Washington’s distillery sold nearly 11,000 gallons of whiskey. The operation consisted of five stills, and it was one of the biggest distilleries in the young United States when it was in operation.
Because history almost always, without fail, sucks, we do need to talk about the downside to all this. Like the other operations on Mount Vernon, the distillery was operated by slaves. (The names of the distillers are known today: Daniel, James, Timothy, Peter, Nat, and Hanson.) Washington died during that prolific 1799 year on December 14 at age 67. Upon his death, the distillery was left to Lawrence Lewis, Washington’s nephew. Lewis was not able to successfully continue the operation, and the distillery burned down in 1814. That was the end of the original Mount Vernon distillery.
However, as Mount Vernon became a historical site, interest in the old distillery increased. In the late 1990s, a reconstruction project began, and the distillery was producing whiskey once again in 2007. Mount Vernon visitors today can tour the distillery and even buy whiskey made there. But unless that cash is going back to descendants of said slaves, we'll pass.
Top Image: Gilbert Stuart