In 1797, George Washington’s farm manager, James Anderson, convinced his employer that producing whiskey made from corn and rye grown on the estate would be a natural complement to his milling business. Washington was initially skeptical but soon granted permission to build the 2,250-square-foot distillery, making it among the largest whiskey distilleries in early America.
By 1799, Washington produced 11,000 gallons of whiskey, worth the then-substantial sum of $7,500. The distillery ceased operating in 1814 when the building burned.
Beginning in 2000, with a $2.1 million grant from the Distilled Spirits Council and the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America, Mount Vernon began the excavation and restoration of the distillery.
Since 2008, when Virginia legalized spirits sales at the distillery, Mount Vernon has sold more than 23,600 bottles of whiskey and brandy and 8,000 whiskey gift sets. These sales have raised almost $1.5 million in revenue, which benefits the ongoing preservation and restoration of Mount Vernon and its educational programs.
Just prior to his death in 1799, George Washington wrote a letter to his nephew, Col. William A. Washington, discussing his successful distillery operation. In the letter, Washington described the “demand” for his whiskey in the region as “brisk” and requested his nephew’s assistance in procuring additional grain for the distillery. This rare correspondence is one of a limited number in existence that discusses Washington’s distillery. Read the excerpt below:
“My dear Sir:
Your letter of the 8th instant has been duly received and this letter will be handed to you by Mr. Lawe. Lewis, to whom I have rented my Mill and Distillery, and who comes into your parts to see if he can procure (on reasonable terms) grain with which to keep them employed. Your advice and aid in enabling him to obtain these would be serviceable to him, and obliging me. Mr. Lewis is a cautious man, and I persuade myself will scrupulously fulfill any contracts he may enter into – you will be perfectly safe, I conceive, in declaring this.
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 this article (in these parts) is brisk. The Rye may be sent when it suits your convenience, letting me know in the meantime, the quantity I may rely on, that my purchase of this grain may be regulated thereby.
Mrs. Washington has got tolerably well again, and unites with me in every good wish for you and yours. With very great esteem and friendship I remain.
Your Affectionate Uncle, G Washington”
For full information on George Washington as a Distiller please visit the American Whiskey Trail website here.