- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2007

George Washington may be best known for his role in building a new nation, but visitors to his Mount Vernon estate should soon have the chance to taste one of the Founding Father’s lesser known talents: making rye whiskey.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, is expected to sign into law a measure that would allow Mount Vernon to sell small amounts of Washington’s Whiskey at the rebuilt George Washington’s Distillery, which is scheduled to open to the public in a ceremony next month.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Linda T. “Toddy” Puller, Fairfax County Democrat, unanimously passed the House and Senate.

“By allowing us to sell George Washington’s rye whiskey, our visitors will be able to taste an authentic flavor of the 18th century, while learning more about Washington’s entrepreneurial spirit,” said Dennis Pogue, chief historian at Mount Vernon.

After his two terms as the nation’s first president, Washington returned to his farm in 1797 with an interest in pursuing lucrative ventures.

The nation’s foremost statesman already had a water-powered grist mill, where grain was ground into flour. At the urging of his farm manager John Anderson, who was experienced in distilling, Washington converted the grain from the mill into his own brand of white lightning.

“He came to distilling with a great deal of suspicion but was convinced by his friend that if his Scottish plantation manager knew what he was doing, that there was a profit to be made,” said Frank Coleman, senior vice president of the District-based Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

Located about three miles from Mount Vernon, the distillery flourished, eventually making the former military commander the biggest whiskey purveyor in the new nation.

The finished product was put into barrels constructed at the site and marketed to merchants in Alexandria who had “come from far and wide to acquire Washington’s whiskey,” Mr. Coleman said.

In 1797, Washington described the demand in a letter to his nephew.

“Two hundred gallons of whiskey will be ready this day for your call, and the sooner it is taken the better, as the demand for [these parts] is brisk,” he wrote.

By 1799, Washington was producing about 11,000 gallons of spirits on an annual basis and producing a profit that would be equivalent to $800,000 annually, Mr. Coleman said.

“He was a phenomenal entrepreneur,” he said.

Washington died later that year and the distillery fell into disrepair.

In 1997, archaeologists found the footprint of the distillery, and its blueprints were discovered in Washington’s records.

Since then, the Distilled Spirits Council and the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America have given $2.1 million to have historians, architects and craftsmen reconstruct the building on the site.

“It was a no-brainer for the industry,” Mr. Coleman said of the investment. “Here you find the founder of the country turns out to be the largest whiskey distiller in the early years of the country.”

Mr. Coleman said the two-story building, which will house the distillery on the first floor and a museum on the second, also will serve as the gateway to the American Whiskey Trail, which runs through historical distilling-related sites in New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee.

Washington, a rum and wine drinker, was an advocate of moderation and saved the best alcohol for his wife, Martha, who was famous for her secret punch recipes.

Kevin Hall, a spokesman for Mr. Kaine, noted Washington’s other tie to whiskey.

As president, Washington mobilized troops to end the Whiskey Rebellion in Pennsylvania, where settlers were upset over the federal excise tax on their favorite beverage.

“Governor Kaine is inclined to sign the legislation,” Mr. Hall said of Mrs. Puller’s bill. “But I must point out the irony of this proposal, since George Washington played a lead role in putting down the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794.”

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