- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2001

Mount Vernon historians, re-enactors and representatives from the liquor industry yesterday broke ground for the reconstruction of George Washingtons distillery at Dogue Creek, a few miles from the former presidents mansion.
Actor Bill Sommerfield, who portrayed Washington, drew the most attention as he towered over the crowd, dressed in 18th century garb, complete with sword and a tricorn hat.
"I will not dispute that theyre better than water," said Mr. Sommerfield, speaking in character and referring to drinks of the alcoholic kind.
Rebuilding the distillery, which Washington built in 1797, is part of an educational push by Mount Vernon to showcase Washington the man in addition to Washington the statesmen.
"Were really intent on showing people George Washington as not just the most powerful person of the 18th century, but the most fascinating," said James Rees, executive director of Historic Mount Vernon.
The restoration effort has received at least $1.2 million from the distilled spirits industry, including companies like Makers Mark, Jim Beam Brands Co. and the Bacardi Companies.
The distillery is expected to be completed in 2005, but tours of the excavation area, next to Washingtons gristmill on Dogue Creek, will be available in the next few months.
Washington, owner of 8,000 acres of farmland, started the distillery two years before his death, thinking it would be a wise business venture, according to Dennis Pogue, associate director of preservation at Mount Vernon.
Washington was right. He made more than $7,000 in the first year, his most profitable business after his fishery.
That would translate into millions in todays economy, said Peter Cressy, president and CEO of the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S.
Mr. Cressy said the liquor industry got involved in the project to help Mount Vernon portray Washington as the entrepreneur he was, and help promote their businesses.
"George Washington is a perfect spokesperson, because he advocated moderate drinking," Mr. Cressy said.
While perhaps a moderate drinker — although not much is written about his alcohol consumption, said Mr. Pogue — Washington was not a modest businessman. A year before his death he expanded his distillery to include five instead of two stills.
"He was, and still is, very innovative. And you know hes not young anymore. Hes 66," said actress Pat Jordan, portraying Martha Washington.
Washington channeled the wastewater from the distillery to a nearby field populated by 150 pigs, and according to a Polish guest of Washingtons, the pigs were fatter than anything hed ever seen.
"I am sure it was the most fragrant area of Mount Vernon," Mr. Rees said.
Esther White, the director of archeology, said her team has found an intricate water system that supplied fresh water to the distillery.
Few artifacts have been recovered, but archeologists are mapping the foundation and structure of the distillery, which will be used when rebuilding the structure.
As for the possibility that an exhibit showcasing the production of alcohol might stir controversy, Mr. Pogue said that it is the mission of Mount Vernon to show history as it was.
"Were not here to change history. Were here to interpret the activities of his time period," Mr. Pogue said. "You need to know everything. We also talk about his being a slave owner, not something we endorse today."
As for Washingtons own taste, he is said to have liked porter and Madeira and other sweet drinks popular at the time. But the alcohol he produced, whiskey and sometimes brandy, tasted more like modern-day moonshine than anything else, Mr. Pogue said.
The main ingredients were rye and corn."The cost was about 70 cents a gallon," Mr. Pogue said.


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