Making whiskey the George Washington way

Making whiskey on one’s farm or plantation was an honorable tradition in the days before the Federal government saw distilled spirits as a reliable source of tax income. No less than George Washington distilled whiskey at Mount Vernon. Now, according to this article, the good people who run Mt. Vernon now have the Father of our Country’s distillery up and running.

This was no backyard still. According to the Mount Vernon site , “Washington erected a large stone gristmill in 1771 to increase production of flour and cornmeal, and to be able to export high quality flour to the West Indies, England, and Europe. In 1797, Washington’s Scottish farm manager James Anderson encouraged him to build a whiskey distillery adjacent to the gristmill. The distillery was the largest in America, producing 11,000 gallons of whiskey in 1799, making it one of the most successful economic enterprises at Mount Vernon.

“Distillers demonstrate 18th-century techniques operating five copper stills, mash tubs, and a boiler in the two-story building that also includes and office and living quarters.”

According to the Associated Press article,”Mount Vernon says the distillery is the only one in the nation, and possibly the world, that authentically demonstrates 18th-century distilling techniques.

“The stills will distill liquid on a daily basis to demonstrate the process to visitors; whiskey will be made only on special occasions.

“The whiskey will be available for purchase at the estate and at the gristmill site, but it may be an unfamiliar taste to modern palettes. Washington did not age his whiskey as distillers do today.

“The product is colorless and less refined. It would have been considered high-quality whiskey in its day, but Mount Vernon director James Rees once compared it to “white lightning,” slang for homemade whiskey or moonshine.”

And which state is the most famous one for making moonshine? (Hint: it’s not Virginia.)

Why doesn’t someone in Tennessee create an operating still? If they can do it at Mount Vernon, we can so it here. Having an operating still would be a sure-firewater way of luring visitors and separating them from their dollars. I nominate the following places as the short list of where to put a still:

Cocke County. Heck, this place could demonstrate 21st Century whiskey-making techniques

Rocky Mount. Folks at the capitol of the Southwest Territory no doubt fought off chills with a homemade toddy

Andrew Johnson’s home in Greeneville. This president was known for taking a nip or two in his day

The Hermitage. Andrew Jackson’s inauguration was the wildest party ever held in the White House

If Mount Vernon can navigate through the thicket of regulations involving making whiskey at an historical site, then so can people in Tennessee.

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