- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 6, 2000

First in war, first in peace, and first in recognizing that after building a new country, his fellow countrymen would need a good, stiff drink.

George Washington was, among everything else, a successful purveyor of whiskey, which he began making in the last two years of his life.

Tonight, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States will announce a grant of $1.2 million for Mount Vernon to continue digging on the spot of, and eventually re-create, Washington's own distillery.

After Washington returned from his two terms as the nation's first president he needed to turn a profit, and farming was a lot of work.

But he already had his grist mill, and he already had a supply of grain and water coming to one of his farms.

So, at the urging of John Anderson, his farm manager and a Scotsman who had experience making the drink in the old country, Washington went to work making whiskey.

"This is whiskey as it was made 200 years ago," said Dennis Pogue, associate director for preservation at Mount Vernon, Washington's historic home in Fairfax County. "It's basically white lightning, it's not aged for any time period whatsoever. It goes from a still to a barrel and gets sold."s from a still to a barrel and gets sold."

America's relationship with alcohol has always been ambivalent, with the efforts to outlaw it during Prohibition in conflict with the romance of bootleggers.

And so there's something about Washington and alcohol that smacks of titillating details the image of the strait-laced father of the country tossing back a few that captures interest.

Rebuilding the distillery is part of an educational push by Mount Vernon to show Washington as the man in addition to Washington as the statesman.

"It's the telling detail it's the interesting back story that we all want to know about for famous people," Mr. Pogue said. "People's perception of George Washington is so stereotyped. We all think we know who George Washington is, we all have such a mental image of him and what he accomplished, but it doesn't extend far beyond his public accomplishments."

Washington was one of the few founding fathers who left a solvent estate at his death, and the distillery was his second-most-profit-

able operation on the farm, trailing only his fishery.

Peter H. Cressy, president of the Distilled Spirits Council, said when he pitched the idea of rebuilding the distillery to member companies it wasn't tough to sell them on the idea of supporting the project.

"We are very interested in heritage and cultural acceptance of our product," he said. "We want to be proud of it, but we want to be proud of it in the right way."

And for that, there may be no better spokesman in history than Washington, who was an advocate of drinking in moderation exactly the balance the folks at the Distilled Spirits Council want to strike in its own public persona.

Washington always made sure he had the best alcohol available for Martha, his wife, famous for some of her secret rum-punch recipes.

He also was known to extol the virtues of drink for his troops, but there aren't any well-known stories in which he himself showed public drunkenness or inappropriate behavior, Mr. Cressy said.

And he demanded that his staff both in the army and on his plantation be moderate. He wrote letters admonishing that too much drinking reduced people to little more than animals, and he once dismissed a miller who had too strong a hankering for whiskey.

Washington also had another famous tie to whiskey. As president, he himself led troops in 1794 to end the Whiskey Rebellion in Pennsylvania, where settlers were upset over the federal excise tax on their favorite drink.

Washington's distillery sat next to his grist mill, about three miles away from his mansion. The site was operated by slaves and had five stills. It produced 11,000 gallons $7,500 worth of profit of corn and rye whiskey in the little more than a year it operated before his death.

The distillery, along with the mill and that part of his farms, was left to one of his heirs.

The excavation of the distillery site began almost two years ago. When excavation is done, the folks at Mount Vernon will decide whether to go ahead with re-creating the distillery, but so far all signs are showing that they will. It will be another five years or so before the distillery is built.

Even then, though, it doesn't sound like people will be able to buy GW-brand whiskey. The stills will probably be able to make it, but it would be too expensive to keep it going, Mr. Cressy said.

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