MOUNT VERNON, Va. — Prince Andrew, the Duke of York today joined public officials and leaders of the Scottish and American spirits industry at Historic Mount Vernon to celebrate the official dedication of the restored George Washington’s Distillery.
The Duke, who cut the ribbon at the event, was celebrating the close Scottish-U.S. ties and paying tribute to Scotland’s connection to George Washington’s distillery. He noted that it was George Washington’s Scottish farm manager, James Anderson, who convinced Washington in 1797 that distilling whiskey would be a lucrative business venture and a good use of the excess grain from the nearby gristmill.
He joined other public officials including Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell in raising a toast to George Washington and splashing whiskey against the distillery’s exterior stone wall.
“George Washington’s Distillery will give the world both a clear view of the entrepreneurial spirit of our nation’s first president and a valuable insight into America’s distilling heritage,” said Distilled Spirits Council President Peter Cressy, whose organization has been the major donor to Mount Vernon for the $2.1 million project to excavate and reconstruct the historic distillery. “George Washington was one of the most successful whiskey distillers of his time and symbolizes everything modern distillers stand for: responsibility, moderation and quality.”
Chief Executive of the Scotch Whisky Association Gavin Hewitt, who traveled to the United States for the dedication, stated, “Scotland and the U.S.A. have long shared a passion for making whisky. We are delighted to celebrate the Scottish connection that brought distilling to Mount Vernon. The partnership between George Washington and James Anderson, his Scottish-born farm manager, was instrumental in creating one of the most successful whisky distilleries in early America.”
As part of the festivities, invited guests and the media tasted rare spirits as Master Distillers representing America’s best known liquor brands led an 18th Century distilling demonstration using George Washington’s historic recipe.
The whiskey was distilled in a copper pot still, crafted by Vendome Copper and Brass Works Company of Louisville, Ky., that was an exact replica of a late 18th Century still in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution.
The event also featured the ceremonial hand-bottling of the first George Washington Rye Whiskey distilled and aged at Mount Vernon nearly three years ago, which will be auctioned at an evening benefit gala for Mount Vernon.
Master Distillers who participated in the event were: Willie Ramos, of Bacardi; Ron Call of Cruzan Rum Distillery, Gerry Webb and John Lunn of George Dickel, Chris Morris of Woodford Reserve Jack Daniel’s; Bill Samuels, Jr. of Maker’s Mark; Ken Pierce of Very Old Barton; Joe Dangler of Virginia Gentleman and Eddie Russell of Wild Turkey.
In 1797, Washington, on the advice of James Anderson, constructed a large whiskey distillery adjacent to his gristmill on the banks of Dogue Creek in Fairfax County. Anderson installed his son, John, as distillery manager and the enterprise became one of the largest whiskey distilleries in early America — producing 11,000 gallons in 1799, worth the then-substantial sum of $7500.
“George Washington was so much more than the image that most Americans have of him — of the ‘old man’ on the dollar bill,” said Dennis Pogue, chief historian at Historic Mount Vernon. “Recreating his distillery — one of the largest in America when it was built — will give visitors the opportunity to see Washington in one of his many lesser-known roles, in this case as a dynamic, risk taking entrepreneur.”
After five years of archaeological excavations, the distillery has been authentically rebuilt by a team of restoration architects, craftsmen and historians using 18th-century building techniques.
The reconstructed distillery marks the only historic site in the country capable of showing the early American distilling process from seed to barrel. It will also serve as the “Gateway” to the American Whiskey Trail, a cultural heritage and tourism initiative of Historic Mount Vernon and the Distilled Spirits Council, when the second story distilling museum opens to the public in April, 2007.