The historic George Washington Distillery at Mt. Vernon is offering unaged Rye and aged (two years) straight whiskey for sale. The tour of the Distillery and Gristmill is sold out for the one-day event on March 19, 2016, but the Shops at Mt. Vernon, on the estate property (southeast end of George Washington Parkway), are open to the public with whiskies available. The Master Distiller is Dave Pickerell, the famed master overseeing the handmade production of Maker’s Mark for more than fourteen years. Two batches are produced annually. Interesting videos below.
Our first President began distilling after he left office (and refusing to be “king”). The facility is located three miles south of his Mt. Vernon home, about fifteen miles outside Washington, D.C. The distillery was “rebuilt” in 2009, funded by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.
Tasting notes from Reid Mitenbuler, author and whiskey blogger:
The only thing that reminded me that I wasn’t actually in the eighteenth century was the pair of sneakers worn by a worker otherwise wearing period dress and the fact that I wasn’t dying from quinsy. The equipment in the gristmill where the distillery’s grains were ground was made of stone, wood, and held together by leather straps and rope. The stillhouse smelled of wood smoke and wooden paddles were used to stir the mash.
The whiskey is based on a recipe used by Washington and his farm manager, James Anderson, and is distilled primarily from rye….
So I was surprised when it actually tasted good, better than most other white whiskey I’ve tried. I generally find that unaged spirits distilled mainly from rye are more agreeable than those distilled primarily from other grains, and that was the case here. Regardless of what grain comprises a whiskey’s base, the barrel has a transformative effect, and I find that raw rye distillate begins that journey from a better place than base spirits that become bourbon or Scotch, even though those other whiskies usually make up the distance by the end of their trip.
It also helps that Mt. Vernon filters its unaged rye to remove some of the harsher flavors, a modern twist on tradition that some other unaged whiskies on today’s market also employ. Many modern distillers hold degrees in chemical engineering and are well-schooled to know how to tweak tradition when needed, a case very much in point with Washington’s whiskey. It might not be exactly what Washington drank, but where past meets present, it’s probably a lot better. Source: Reid Mitenbuler at Serious Eats
George Washington’s original mash of 60 percent rye, 35 percent corn and five percent malted barley is used and tended to by “costumed interpreters,” who explain the fermenting and distilling techniques and how the equipment works. About one thousand bottles are produced each year.
…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. ~ Master Distiller Dave Pickerell
How it works:
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. Source: Washington Post
In Washington’s time, whiskey received no aging. Today’s Limited Edition with two years’ aging, is $188 per .375ml. The Rye and straight is $98, unaged, per .375ml.
The distillery receives a special waiver from the state of Virginia, making a liquor license unnecessary. All sales are on-site with valid photo I.D. necessary. Law does not allow the estate to ship. The home and gardens are open to the public year-round, 365 days a year. The Distillery and Gristmill are open the months of April through October.
If you have not visited Mt. Vernon, I urge you to put it on your bucket list. It’s a memory-maker. The Mount Vernon website has more with virtual tours of this important and unique home. You will see either George or Martha (maybe both) loved color in their home.
After the videos, visit my Whiskey-Bourbon tab for general information.
A fascinating look at distilling George Washington Rye: