I cannot tell a lie: George Washington personally distilled tens of thousands of gallons of whiskey.
From the official website of the Mount Vernon estate:
George Washington’s venture into the whiskey business began at the urging of his farm manager, James Anderson. Anderson, who had been involved in the distilling industry in Scotland before immigrating to America in the early 1790s, was convinced that a distilling business would round out Mount Vernon’s complement of economic ventures – and generate substantial profits….
In 1799, the year of Washington’s death, the distillery produced nearly 11,000 gallons, making it the largest whiskey distillery in America at the time.
Here at Trysk, we were surprised and delighted to learn of this liquor-soaked chapter of our nation’s past. Why isn’t this more widely known?
According to The Smithsonian, Washington left the distillery to his nephew, who didn’t possess the General’s business acumen and neglected to rebuild the facility when it burned to the ground in 1814. The State of Virginia looked into rebuilding the distillery in the 1930s but the social pressures of Prohibition made the project politically impossible.
And things stayed that way until the late 20th Century, when an enterprising band of drinkers set out to un-revise this little piece of history.
From The Smithsonian Magazine:
In 1997, archaeologists surveying the area discovered the foundation of the original distillery, and set out to reconstruct the building based on its original design. After securing key funding from the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) in 2001, a group of archaeologists, historians and distillers looked deeper into the distillery’s past: What role did it play on the estate? What role did it play in 18th-century America? They carefully searched records for hints about how the distillery functioned on an industrial level, making note of the number of stills used by Anderson, for example, to make the whiskey. Esther White, director of archaeology with the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, helped lead the reconstruction. By 2007, the distillery was open to the public.
According to the Washington Post, the on-site distillers actually use antique methods, hand-chopping wood to run the boilers, and overseeing the entire process without the benefit of electricity.
And then in 2012, four of the most highly regarded distillers in the world gathered in Virginia for an unprecedented collaboration.
From The Daily Caller:
And in the spring of 2012, these four whiskey men came here. They were Master Distillers John Campbell of Laphroaig, Andy Cant of Cardhu, Bill Lumsden of Glenmorangie, and Dave Pickerell of Maker’s Mark and Whistle Pig fame….
Years later, in October 2015, after 28 months in new, toasted oak casks, and another four finished in madeira casks, 40 bottles of each were ready and labeled. Later that night, a charity auction sold the bottles — one of each — for a whopping $26,000. Not bad, for a three-year.
We were thrilled to be asked to oversee the labeling for this elite project – even if it was just 40 bottles. When the product is great, no job is too big or too small!
Trysk first came on board through our old friend David Cole at David Cole Design. The job was technically sophisticated; there is a label on the neck of the bottle, the front label is both foil stamped and embossed, and the back label is two-sided with additional images that can be seen through the liquor itself.
But we thrive with a good challenge, and, being the history buffs that we are, we just couldn’t say no.
Check out this excellent short documentary to learn more.