George Washington's Distillery

George Washington's Distillery


Long before Jack Daniels, George Washington was a whiskey tycoon. "The Founding Father" spent his post-presidency years presiding over a booming alcohol business.


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When George Washington left the presidency in 1797, he was looking forward to some relaxation returning to Mount Vernon and the pastoral life that had been distant during his time as president. But Washington was a man of innovation, who rarely let an opportunity slip by and when he hired a Scottish plantation manager in 1797, Washington added another line to his resume: whiskey seller. The plantation manager, James Anderson, had immigrated to Virginia in the early 1790s noticed a missed opportunity at the estate: the abundance of crops, combined with Washington's state-of-the-art gristmill and abundant water supply could be used to make whiskey. And it wasn't just the abundance of crops, but the type.

Washington, to help foster healthy soil, planted a lot of rye as a cover crop. Rye wasn't high on the list of delicious, edible grains, but Anderson didn't think it should go to waste instead, he wanted to turn it into whiskey.

Washington was, at first, hesitant to jump into a new business venture after all, at 65 years old, he had wanted to spend his retirement years in relative peace, but after hearing Anderson's proposal, as well as corresponding with a friend who was involved in the rum business, Washington acquiesced. That winter, Anderson began distilling in the estate's cooperage, using just two stills (pots used for distillation).

The first distilling was so successful that Washington approved plans for the construction of a full-fledged distillery, complete with five stills. The distillery finished construction in 1798, and by 1799, it was the largest whiskey distillery in the country. That year, the distillery produced 11,000 gallons of clear, un-aged whiskey, which Washington sold for a total of $1,800 ($120,000 by today's standards).


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