Tag Archives: Tuesday Gems

Whisky & Washington’s Wealth

Welcome to the launch of Rita Bay’s Blog.  This week’s salute to Washington will include the distillery post below, an excerpt of Washington’s 1789 inaugural address which should be required reading for all US Government servants, one of the few surviving love letters he wrote to Martha, Martha’s home remedy for respiratory problems, a report on the high-tech examination of Washington’s dentures, his statements on the necessity of carrying weapons and an eyewitness account of his death.  Most posts include links to read more info and all of this week’s posts are suitable for children. 

The Reconstructed Distillery

     George Washington, although he farmed around 8,000 acres, rarely had cash on hand.  As a matter of fact, when he was elected President he had to borrow money to relocate to New York City which was the center of the American government in 1789. 

     His fortunes changed, however, when James Anderson, his Scottish plantation manager, recommended that he open a distillery on his Mount Vernon estate.  Mount Vernon possessed the requirements for a successful venture:  nearby access to a market in Alexandria by road or on the Potomac, a consistent source of grain and wood and a constant overhead flow of good quality water.  The distillery was constructed below the millrace to take advantage of the water source available by the flow of gravity.  The cooper in the Mount Vernon cooperage built the barrels for the production and shipping of the whisky

The Distillery's Foundation

     The first batch of 600 gallons in 1797 was so successful that the initial purchase of one copper still was soon followed by the purchase of three additional stills and the construction of a larger distillery.  Washington soon became the largest distiller of whiskey in the United States.  In 1799, his distillery produced 11,000 gallons of rye whiskey with a profit of $7,500.

      The distillery which measured 75’ x 30’ and included a residence for the distiller was torn down about 15 years after his death. Archaeologists at Mount Vernon discovered the foundations of the distillery and began excavations in 1999 with a grant from the Distilled Spirits Council of the US.  After the excavations were completed in 2005, a working distillery was reconstructed which produces whisky using Washington’s own recipe which was 60% rye, 35% corn, and 5% malted barley.

During Reconstruction

    Washington, who had stopped growing tobacco as a cash crop decades before, was an entrepreneur who sought to make Mount Vernon a self-sufficient community.  In addition to wheat as a primary cash crop, he operated a gristmill (which has also been rebuilt) to grind his and his neighbor’s wheat into a fine flour and maintained a fishing operation in the Potomac River which caught and salted shad and herring for consumption at Mount Vernon and for sale to local merchants.  Washington also operated a smithy in which the blacksmith worked for the surrounding farms.  Tomorrow, Wednesday’s Worthy Words post will present an excerpt of Washington’s First Inaugural Address.

For More Info check out:  

Archaeology Magazine’s interactive website Distilling the Past from 2003 or the Mount Vernon website:  http://www.mountvernon.org/learn/pres_arch/index.cfm/sss/82/

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