George Washington Distillery & Gristmill visit

In June, I visited the restored George Washington Distillery & Gristmill near Mount Vernon, Virginia. President Washington is famously connected to American whiskey for having approved an excise tax on distilled spirits and then personally quelling the "Whiskey Rebellion" in western Pennsylvania in 1794. But the connection doesn't end there.

When Washington retired from the presidency in 1797, he hired a new farm manager, James Anderson. Mr. Anderson was a Scottish immigrant and a drinker of spiritous booze.  He proposed to Mr. Washington that a whiskey distillery be constructed beside Mount Vernon's state of the art gristimill which was built when Washington was a private farmer in 1770.

In the spring of 1798, Washington's distillery began pumping out rye and corn based whiskey. In 1799, he produced 10,500 gallons of clear rye whiskey (which netted the former president $7,500). Washington died later that year and the distillery business dried up. The original distillery burned in 1814 and the site was neglected for a very long time.

Finally, in the 1990's, the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association began a restoration of the old distillery site. The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States and private donors paid for the project, which reflects a historically faithful reconstruction of the original buildings and equipment. Everything from the grain hopper, to the copper pot still, to the water wheel is just like it was in 1797. In 2007, after a nearly 200-year hiatus, the George Washington Distillery & Gristmill reopened and began producing the same rye whiskey (with some modern twists, like filtration) that George Washington preferred (65% rye, 30% corn, 5% malted barley). 

The full time employees do everything, from chopping wood and starting fires below the still, to milling the grains, stirring the mash, and monitoring the distillation process.
Mount Vernon has hired Dave Pickerell (Maker's Mark, Whistlepig, Hillrock) to assist several full time employees with the milling, mashing, distilling, tasting, and bottling of George Washington Rye Whiskey. They also produce apple and peach brandy and recently began offering a straight rye (aged in oak for two years).  [George Washington did not age his whiskey- he didn't even bottle it- just sent it out the door in oak casks for saloons and other merchants]. The aged rye is released each year on the 4th of July.  Only 300 bottles are sold (at $185/pint)...

Thanks to my buddy @fletcher_whiskeydog for sending me a sample of the unaged rye to taste/write some notes on. I passed on the full bottle when I visited!

George Washington Rye Whiskey

George Washington Distillery & Gristmill
80 proof
$98 at GW distillery gift shop

Color: Clear.

Nose:  The nose is very earthy- it fumes of raw grains, dirt, and straw.  There is the faintest citrusy note and an airiness I'll call "wind."  

Tasting notes:  Not surprisingly, the flavor profile is dominated by raw grains.  Despite a 65% rye mash bill, my first impression is corn.  The spicier rye bite makes itself known mid-sip.  A strawberry note gives some sweetness to the rawness of the rye and corn.

Overall: NR.  At the end of the day, it's jut a white dog.  But it's got a good burn, a pleasant sweetness to the nose and sip, and the best story in whiskey.  If you're ever in northern Virginia, get off on Mount Vernon Memorial Highway!

Dave Pickerell and crew are also producing an "estate edition" GW rye which goes for $16/pint whereas the "limited edition" rye made at Mount Vernon is $100/pint...