Mount Vernon distillery still making whiskey the Washington way

MOUNT VERNON, Va. (WRIC) — September is Spirits Month in Virginia. This year, the General Assembly passed legislation making George Washington’s Rye Whiskey the official spirit of Virginia.

The recipe, or “mash bill,” dates back to the late 1790s. Today, it is still made the way it was back then at a distillery in Mount Vernon.

The recipe was created by a father and son, James and John Anderson, who ran the distillery for Washington. The working distillery is a reconstruction of the original site, on the original site.

Steve Bashore is Director of Historic Trades at Mount Vernon. He said the area was studied for six years prior to restoration.

“What we found was a lot of the details of the distillery were still there — the foundation, the drain, features that we could tell where the components were,” he said. “We rebuilt Washington’s distillery on the original footprint.”

In 1799, Washington’s distillery produced nearly 11,000 gallons. It’s believed it was the largest whiskey distillery in the United States at the time.

“I think the history of Virginia and the founding of the country is really tied into alcohol,” he said. “First, rum was the drink of the colonies, but whiskey of course became pretty prevalent after the Revolution and is today.”

Bashore said historic trades are dying arts.

“I think we’re doing a service to people really understanding their past and keeping these trades alive,” he said.

At Mount Vernon, visitors will see two trades in action — at the distillery and a gristmill next door.

The mill grinds grain every day.

“George Washington, in addition to being our first president and the commander in chief, was an incredible business man and farmer,” said Bashore. “For most people who visit Mount Vernon, they think of the public life of George Washington, so this site particularly and our farm site down by the estate brings to life Mount Vernon as a working estate.”

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the distillery’s restoration.

“We’ve been able to work with a lot of distillers and master distillers who taught us and helped us through the process,” said Bashore.

Bashore said they will honor those people at an event Oct. 23 and 24.

“We’re doing a special distillation of rye whiskey,” he said.

The plan is to age it in American Oak barrels for a few years and finish it in Madeira cask.

“Madeira was Washington’s favorite drink,” said Bashore.

The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States helped secure the money for the restoration.

On Oct. 2, the distillery’s Apple Brandy will go on sale. Tours run from April 1 to Oct. 31.

To learn more about Virginia’s official state spirit, click HERE.