Washington reviewing the Western Army at Fort Cumberland, Maryland. By Frederick Kemmelmeyer On October 16, 1794, President Washington arrived to review the militia preparing to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania. Even today the western Pennsylvanian town of Washington celebrates this historical event. The Whiskey Rebellion Festival has period demonstrations, exhibitions, and historical reenactments, including a tar-and-feathering of a tax collector. The nation doubled again in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase. Americans moved farther west and navigated the vast inland waterway system of North America. Advances in the distillation process and the invention of both the perpetual and continuous column stills improved efficiency and outcomes of whiskey distilling. These advances, along with increases in grain surpluses and the end of the whiskey tax, meant American whiskey distilling and consuming increased exponentially. Prior to prohibition, America was home to an estimated 18,000 distilleries. In The Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition, historian W. J. Rorabaugh noted, “During the first third of the nineteenth century the typical American annually drank more distilled liquor that at any other time in our history.” A British visitor to the United States in the 1830s wrote home that, “In America, a man is not considered drunk so long as he can move or make a sound.” Barrels of whiskey were put on flatboats and floated down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans. That months-long trip in the barrels was found to improve the quality of the liquor. It was in New Orleans that this steady stream of whiskey gave rise to the birth of American cocktail culture. Bitters, originally developed for their medicinal properties, were discovered to be an excellent modifier to a whiskey base. One New Orleans pharmacist, Antoine Peychaud, expanded his pharmacy to include a bar where he served a new cocktail he had invented using his bitters. That cocktail was the Sazerac. Soon other “cocktail modifiers,” including vermouth and liqueurs, were added to bartenders’ repertoires. The popularity of cocktails led to the use of a variety of spirits, such as gin and rum, and to the growth of different types and styles of whiskies. It was whiskey that went farther into the western WWW.ARTISANSPIRITMAG.COM
frontiers, all the way to the Pacific. Along with the compass and quadrant, a library, and fifty dozen of Dr. Rush’s patented "Rush’s pills,” Meriwether Lewis and William Clark packed 120 gallons of whiskey as they embarked on their expedition. It wasn’t enough. They had to trade for more whiskey several times on their way to the far west. Even America’s great writer and humorist, Mark Twain, wrote of the role of whiskey in the push west:
How solemn and beautiful is the thought, that the earliest pioneer of civilization, the van leader of civilization, is never the steamboat, never the railway, never the newspaper, never the Sabbath-school, never the missionary—but always whiskey! Twain lived and wrote during the settling of the far reaches of the west. As Americans followed the Oregon Trail, advances in distilling techniques and new inventions for both bartender and distiller, carried American drinking traditions into the twentieth century. Mount Vernon had been one of a few large-scale distilleries when it was built, with many more small and local distilleries producing American-style whiskies. Today, small and large scale whiskey distilling are on the rise, as they had been in Washington’s time. According to the Distilled Spirits Council, sales of American whiskey grew over 8 percent in 2017. Rye whiskey sales increased over 16 percent. At the Mount Vernon Distillery dedication in 2006, Peter Cressy concluded, “George Washington was one of the most successful whiskey distillers of his time and symbolizes everything modern distillers stand for: responsibility, moderation and quality.” The rise of American whiskey that began over 200 years ago continues today.
Renée Cebula is a cocktail historian. Her business, Raising the Bar, connects people to history through unique shopping experiences and interactive cocktail-themed classes and tours. raisingthebarstories.com // Insta: @badassbarware 129
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