- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 28, 2006

Britain’s Prince Andrew cutting the ribbon on the reconstruction of the 18th century whiskey distillery operated by George Washington on his Mount Vernon estate might seem like an unlikely mix for such a ceremony, given that Andrew made a point of saying he doesn’t drink whiskey — not to mention Washington’s role in the Revolutionary War, fought to free America from British tyranny.

But there is a strong connection. For one thing, Washington never developed a knee-jerk reaction against the British in the early days of the United States — unlike other Founding Fathers who argued for a close alliance with France against Britain.

“I don’t think he had any strong animosity to the British,” said Dennis Pogue, Mount Vernon’s director of preservation.

Also, Washington owed his success as a distiller to a Scotsman, James Anderson, who worked for Washington and suggested in 1797 — the year he left the presidency — that Washington go into the whiskey-making business.

Washington began whiskey production that year, and by 1799 and was producing 11,000 gallons of rye whiskey a year in a state-of-the-art distillery, making him the Unites States’ largest whiskey producer, Mount Vernon director James Rees said.

During Wednesday’s dedication ceremony for the new distillery, the 46-year-old Duke of York expressed appreciation for Scotland — “its people and particularly its liquids.”

Andrew was presented with a bottle of whiskey distilled on the grounds of the Fairfax County estate and immediately asked if it was drinkable. Assured that it was, he said, “Not that I drink any of this stuff, but I will definitely have it … on use at home.”

Though the $2.1 million distillery was formally dedicated Wednesday, it will not be open to the public until April as final touches are put on the second floor.

Mount Vernon officials hope that about 50,000 visitors a year will come to the distillery and adjacent gristmill, which is on a separate parcel of land from the mansion, a few miles down the road.

Nearly 1 million people a year visit Mount Vernon, which next month will open a new $95 million visitors center.

Mr. Rees said the distillery helps people appreciate Washington’s entrepreneurial skills, a facet that is often forgotten.

“We plan to shine a bright spotlight on Washington the distiller and Washington the entrepreneur in the months and years ahead,” Mr. Rees said.

Most of the funding for the reconstruction came from the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, a trade group that hopes the distillery will serve as an anchor to the American Whiskey Trail, which links up various whiskey-related tourism sites.

Whiskey tourism can be big business. Nearly 250,000 people a year visit the Jack Daniels factory in Lynchburg, Tenn.

While the Mount Vernon distillery will be functional, officials plan to produce only a small amount for commemorative bottles and the like.

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