WASHINGTON & RYE
A conversation with Mount Vernon’s Director of Historic Trades, Steve Bashore, about the on site distillery as well as the experiences of America’s first president (and early distillery owner)
Wr i t t e n b y D e v o n Tr e v a t h a n / / / P h o t o g r a p h y b y S t e v e B a s h o r e
f Thomas Jefferson is remembered as our country’s wine president, then surely George Washington is our commander in whiskey. Around the same time as bourbon giant Jim Beam got its start in the corn-based spirit, Washington was retiring from his position as America’s first president. After returning to Mount Vernon and tending to his sizeable farmland, Washington was inspired by James Anderson, the manager of his farm, to take up distillation. “George Washington’s distillery really has a Scottish history to it,” says Steve Bashore, Director of Historic Trades at Mount Vernon. “Anderson was a Scottish immigrant who had been involved as a merchant and a distiller and also knew a lot about mills, so he was the perfect hire for Washington to run this property.” In 1797, Anderson wrote a letter to Washington proposing a distillery behind the gristmill. The first distillations were made in the estate’s cooperage, and they were so profitable that Washington WWW.ARTISANSPIRITMAG.COM
agreed to build a dedicated distillery on his property, which was completed in March of 1798. The building that Bashore and his team work out of is a recreation of the original, which burned down in 1814, and stays true to the layout that researchers have excavated from the remains. “The reconstruction was done between 2004 and 2007, but it followed on 10 years of research and six years of archeology to be able to reconstruct the building,” says Bashore. The build out included five woodfired copper pot stills, which are placed directly over their original location, in a building that is 75 feet by 35 feet, and the four-story, water-powered gristmill that grinds down the grains used in their spirits. The gristmill was reconstructed in 1932 and is built on the foundations of the original Washington gristmill, which was built in 1771. “That’s how it was in that time period. If you think of all the distilleries throughout the country in the 18th or 19th century, the
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