George Washington Whiskey and Brandy
Recently, experts from around the U.S. convened at George Washington’s Mount
Vernon Distillery, where they tried their hands at recreating the brandy - using
the same processes and methods that would have been used during Washington’s
time. That includes using buckets to transfer liquid instead of pumps and not
using gauges to indicate when the correct temperature has been reached. About
half a dozen people took part in the effort, which was intended to be an
The father of our country not only led his men across the icy Delaware, he also
produced a lot of alcohol. In 1799 alone, Washington’s distillery put out 11,000
gallons of whiskey. Recently, George Washington’s distillery produced and sold a
limited edition rye whiskey - made exactly the way our first president would
have done it 200 years ago. The distillery was able to follow a recipe to make
Washington’s rye whiskey, but there is no known recipe for his brandy. Another
batch of the whiskey will be made next month. Those $85 limited edition bottles
sold out in two hours, by the way.
George Washington was the only founding father to commercially operate a
distillery, and the size of this building and volume of production rank it
among the most important structures of its kind in eighteenth-century
America. Mount Vernon took over the site in 1995, and an archaeological
survey of the area in 1997 uncovered the "footprint" of the distillery,
revealing an unusually large structure and a well-preserved site. We began
an archaeological and documentary research program to find out as much
historical data about the building as possible in 1999. Mount Vernon began a
five-year program of archaeological and documentary research in 2001,
supported by a generous grant from the Distilled Spirits Council of the
United States and the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America, with the goal
of reconstructing and interpreting George Washington's distillery.
The initial results of our research were both exciting and encouraging. Here
are some highlights:
The level of historical documentation about George Washington's distillery
is unusually detailed for the eighteenth century. For example, George
Washington's distillery ledger documents the families who frequented the
distillery and the quantities of and prices paid for the whiskey. Weekly
farm reports from 1797 to 1799 also provide a detailed record of the
distillery's construction and operation.
The archaeological evidence of the distillery is very well preserved. The
ongoing work at George Washington's distillery is the first
eighteenth-century distillery in North America to be systematically
excavated by archaeologists.
At peak production, the distillery utilized five stills and a boiler and
produced 11,000 gallons of whiskey, yielding George Washington a
better-than-average profit of $7500 in 1799. This made the distillery one of
the most successful economic components of Mount Vernon.
The distillery is located down slope from the millrace of Mount Vernon
plantation's gristmill (built in 1771 and reconstructed in the 1930s). The
gristmill and distillery complex also included a cellar for storage, a malt
kiln, a cooperage for making barrels, hog and cattle pens, and quarters for
millers, distillers, servants, and slaves.
The 75-by-30-foot distillery was among the largest structures of its kind in
the eighteenth century. No operating distillery from the eighteenth century
exists in America.