Saturday, April 3, 2010

History and Whiskey in Mount Vernon

Washington, DC is so full of attractions we often forget its namesake’s home, but a trip to Mount Vernon is well worth it.  It’s not surprising that this estate is a landmark full of history, but not many realize that some of that history is the spirited kind.

My trip to Mount Vernon actually began at a restaurant in Alexandria, Virginia called The Majestic.  It’s a small place that you can easily miss on this busy street, but it’s worth checking out the extensive cocktail list (loved the Mint Julep) and Nana’s Sunday Dinner (incredible Tiramisu, something I’m not usually wild about).  After dinner I was lucky enough to be able to stay at the Mount Vernon Guest Quarters, owned and maintained by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association.  This group is actually the oldest national historic preservation organization in the U.S. – and quite hospitable.

The next day it was off from the quaint house to the big house, Mount Vernon.  Though the property now has a modern museum and classrooms, it still retains many of the rooms and all of the beauty the Washingtons gave it.  Over one million people pass through the buildings each year, gazing at the room George Washington first learned he was president, looking at the bedroom he and Martha shared and taking in the beautiful view of the Potomac River.  It was in this estate that Washington coined the phrase, “The sun should not catch you sleeping,” and he did little of that while entertaining guests and running the United States.

Beyond the beautiful estate is something newly developed and unexpected – a gristmill and distillery. George Washington is of course the “father of our country,” but how many know he’s also the father of whiskey?  In 1797, eight years after he was inaugurated as president, he began commercial distilling at Mount Vernon.  The distillery was a quick success and was enlarged by 1798.  The George Washington Distillery was a huge success until his death in 1799.  The property remained without use until 1932, when the Commonwealth of Virginia purchased it, reconstructing the gristmill and miller’s cottage, with plans to redo the distillery.

With a large donation from Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), the project to recreate George’s Washington’s Distillery began.  The gristmill was opened to the public in 2002 and the Distillery in 2007, after ten years of research and reconstruction.  In addition to the working distillery, this site at Mount Vernon has become the Gateway to the American Whiskey Trail.  There is a museum upstairs which chronicles the history of the spirit, and a movie to tell you even more about it.

Even though I grew up on the east coast and made many trips to the area, this was my first to this estate.  A trip to Mount Vernon and George Washington’s Distillery, both of which are open daily, is a must the next time you are in the D.C. area.   And maybe someday (laws permitting) you will actually be able to sample the beverage of a president at his home.

The George Washington Distillery is also the official start of the American Whiskey Tour, which not only includes “whiskey,” but also encompasses rum in the Puerto Rico & St. Croix and Bourbon in Kentucky.  Check back for more about other distilleries along this trail.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, first time here, very interesting read: I didn't know George Washington had a whiskey distillery (and started the industry in the USA???? Really????)
    I look forward to more reads,

    all the best and ciao