interested in helping to make them. Perhaps one of the most exciting collaborations that’s taken place on Washington’s estate was organized by the Council and Mount Vernon to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Scotch Whisky Association. In 2012, four distillers were invited to the estate: Bill Lumsden of Glenmorangie, Andy Cant, formerly of Cardhu and now consulting for Lindores Distillery, John Campbell of Laphroaig, and Dave Pickerell. It was to be a 100% single malt whisky, made in America with Scottish malt and finished in Madeira casks, a favorite drink of the first president. “From my point of view the undertaking of making of a whisky by using the single malt process in an American Distillery and at a distillery with such pedigree as the George Washington distillery in Mount Vernon was an absolute dream come true,” says John Campbell. “I still try and innovate at Laphroaig using some experiences gained from the George Washington distillery to this day and made some friends for life completing this process.” The process, much like the other distillations run at Mount Vernon, was decidedly old-fashioned: the group set out a small number of wooden fermenters for three days, hand sifting all of the solids out of the wort, then charged three stills by filling buckets and pouring them directly into the neck of the still. From there, the stills were lit with an oakwood fire and left to do what they do best. “At this point the three of us had to unlearn a combined 80 years of experience because this was unlike any low wines we had encountered,” says Andy Cant. Due to the full body, character, and strength of the initial distillation, the group did not proceed with a typical second run and instead put the first distillate directly into barrels. “I remember myself, Bill and John sticking our fingers into the distillate stream at regular intervals and tasting as our sole means of quality control.” The whisky made during this experience was subsequently auctioned for charity. “I got to drink with those guys one night here at Mount Vernon and that was so much fun, drinking that whisky and their whiskies after the auction” Bashore says. “And I thought to myself, when am I going to sit with Bill Lumsden, Andy Cant, and John Campbell at the same table? That’s one of those things that Mount Vernon distillery does, like the reunion we had last fall, [it] really brings various people together.”
Bashore and his team know that they are involved in something truly historic at Mount Vernon. Their appreciation for what’s happening now is almost certainly heightened by their interest in our country’s past. Bashore is forthcoming about Washington’s legacy, including both the good, the bad, and the fabled cherry tree. “There’s a lot of 19th century stories that were really meant to illustrate Washington’s character and honesty,” Bashore says. “The real story is much more intriguing. The examples of character and integrity are so replete through his letters and things he did even running his farm...he realized too one of the deep wrongs was the issue of slavery. In his will, he freed 123 slaves that he owned.” Some of those enslaved individuals worked in the distillery, alongside James Anderson’s son John, who was the daily manager. Six of the eight men working there were enslaved — Hanson, Peter, Nat, Daniel, James and Timothy. These men were responsible for the large amounts of whiskey that were produced out of the estate. “We teach that story here of the enslaved people every day at Mount Vernon.” “I think about my fourth grade history, I grew up in Virginia, and you kind of learn about Washington as a mythic figure. For me it’s been great discovering that he’s a human being, quite incredible in many ways but also with faults and flaws just like everyone has.” With so many wonderful projects under their belt, you’d think that the Mount Vernon distillery might take it easy this year, but that doesn’t seem likely. Bashore and his team are already back into full swing as April 1st embarks the opening season for tours of the distillery and gristmill, and they’re hoping to produce more rye whiskey, maybe even to distribute it one day. When asked if they’ll tackle bourbon next, Bashore’s answer is hopeful, if not a little vague. “I think that it’s probably pretty likely that that may happen here in the short term future.” For now, he’s happy to continue working on the spirits that they do have and to further the legacy of America’s first president, a man who stood tall and believed in the restorative powers of a stiff drink.
You can visit the George Washington’s Distillery in Mount Vernon, Virginia from April 1 to October 31. Call (703) 780-2000 or visit www.mountvernon.org/distillery for more info.
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