View Full Version : They're Making Whiskey at Mount Vernon

08-30-2007, 22:42
DISCUS (Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S.) likes to have an annual event, about this time of year, at the George Washington Distillery at Mount Vernon in Virginia. This week, whiskey was made for the first time in the reconstructed distillery that officially opened in March. Master Distillers from different DISCUS-member companies made the rye-mash spirit. They were Jimmy Russell of Wild Turkey; Joe Dangler of Virginia Gentleman; Ken Pierce of Very Old Barton; Gerry Webb of I.W. Harper and Dave Pickerell of Makerís Mark.

I know everybody expect Gerry Webb. I'm not sure who he might be. I. W. Harper is a Diageo product, but it's made by Four Roses.

Although the whiskey has to age for a few years first, they intend to bottle and sell it in the Mount Vernon gift shop. This is good news because the whiskey made there in the past (in a makeshift still while the distillery itself was under construction) was sold at high prices for charitable fund-raising, so most whiskey enthusiasts never got close to it.

Aged In Oak
08-30-2007, 23:33
Although the whiskey has to age for a few years first, they intend to bottle and sell it in the Mount Vernon gift shop. This is good news because the whiskey made there in the past (in a makeshift still while the distillery itself was under construction) was sold at high prices for charitable fund-raising, so most whiskey enthusiasts never got close to it.

Great news! I've been hoping they would start regular sales. Beyond being an interesting bit of history, it seems like a natural way to raise funds for all the restoration/maintenance work that goes on at Mt. Vernon.

One thing I wonder about though... would old George have aged his whiskey before selling it? I was under the impression that distillers in that time period usually sold their product right away, and that aging didn't become standard practice until the 19th century.

08-31-2007, 13:28
George did not age his whiskey and I might be wrong in assuming they are going to age this. I've made some inquiries. Information I have now says they are going to age it. I think it may have to do with standards of identity regs. If they want to call it rye whiskey it has to be aged and if they want to call it straight rye it has to be aged for two years. But from an historic authenticity standpoint, it shouldn't be aged at all.

I have subsequently learned a few more things.

They didn't make much, maybe ten gallons.

Gerry Webb is Diageo's Master Distiller. He oversees their bourbon production as well as Smirnoff and their rums.

Harper is no longer being made at Four Roses, although Bulleit (also Diageo) still is. Bourbon for Harper is being sourced from Barton and Brown-Forman.

08-31-2007, 14:10
Thanks Chuck! You always come up with the breaking bourbon news. So, someone finally admits to using Barton. What will they call the whisky from GW?
Jeff Mo.

08-31-2007, 14:20
Well, it wasn't really an "admission." My source is reliable and in-the-know, but is not from either Diageo or Barton.

The original whiskey they distilled at Mount Vernon was bottled as Straight Rye Whiskey and I assume that is their intention with what they made this week.

09-01-2007, 05:14
I'm actually taking my folks there today - anything of note still going on today?

09-01-2007, 13:27
You'll have to tell us. I think the master distillers have all gone. I have heard that they "demonstrate" the stills normally by boiling water in them, so they might be doing that. The set-up is pretty cool, though. You'll like it.

09-01-2007, 19:48
Man, I missed the distillers by a day! That stinks. But it was a good tour anyhow, and the guide really seemed to know what she talked about.

So, to clarify a few things from info I learned on the tour:

They do not intend to age the whiskey or store it in barrels for precisely the reason mentioned above - that's not how George Washington did it. It will be white dog. It may in fact be stored for awhile in metal containers of some sort until the VA ABC finally issues them a license, but they are not trying to age the whiskey.

The guide said their goal was to make 1000 gallons each time the distillers visit and they came close to their goal with this past trip but did not quite make it.

The previous distillation was in March when the distillery opened. The whiskey from that distillation is being stored somewhere on the Mt. Vernon property, in an undisclosed location, until they get their license to sell from the ABC.

They ultimately hope to distill whiskey on a quarterly basis.

The mashbill is 60% rye, 35% corn, and 5% barley.

They do distill water most of the time, but they don't generally run the stills with water in the summer because of how hot it gets in the distillery.

I saw several A. Smith Bowman (Virginia Gentleman) barrels in the distillery and asked about them. The guide said they were just for decorative purposes and had not been used/were not going to be used to age the Mt. Vernon whiskey.

The guide did mention something that sounded a little fishy. She said she thought the final product might be some sort of blended whiskey from several distilleries. She didn't sound very sure about this though, and was going beyond her expertise in speculating on this.

The whiskey will probably be solid in fairly small bottles in the gift shop starting in April 2008. (A different guide at the grist mill said it would be available in one month, but I don't think he knew as much as the guide that said April.)

They have old-fashioned copper pot stills.

Aged In Oak
09-02-2007, 00:27
Thanks for the thorough report, Dan! Sounds like they're trying to be as traditional as possible with their distilling. Should be interesting to try once they start selling it! Can't wait!

I wonder how long with will take for VABC to issue the license? :yum:

09-02-2007, 10:11
Personally, I'd love to see them do both: the original unaged version and aged. It would be fun to compare them.

09-02-2007, 14:23
Your guide may have sounded like she knew what she was talking about, but I know that on at least one point she is wrong. My source for the "not quite ten gallons" was one of the distillers themselves. Also, 1,000 gallons would be a very tall order with those stills, not something you could achieve in a few days.

Joe Dangler, from A. Smith Bowman, has been the key guy among the master distillers, because he's nearby. The VG barrels are from the original "vatted" whiskey they mixed there from whiskey supplied by all of the DISCUS members, which may have been what the guide was referring to, but that was done a couple of years ago. Or Joe may just have brought a couple barrels over for show. Even though they didn't age whiskey then, they would have used barrels for all sorts of things, as they didn't have stainless steel or most of the other types of containers we take for granted.

I'm trying to get some more definitive information from DISCUS or Mount Vernon. I'll report back when I know more.

Personally, I think it is historically important when they make whiskey there and exactly what they did should be properly recorded. I'm trying to determine if it was or if it can be at least reconstructed from the participants.