Sampling George Washington's Whiskey

Before you start to get any ideas about our most iconic Founding Father, let's get one thing straight: George Washington wasn't a boozehound. And yet, not only was his recipe for beer recently reproduced by the New York Public Library in collaboration with Coney Island Brewing Co. last year, but you can taste the first president's very own whiskey, too.

Mount Vernon's Chief Archaeologist, Dennis Pogue, says that Washington himself wasn't a big drinker. But he was an avid farmer, especially post-retirement, and it just happened to be common back in the 18th and 19th centuries for farmers to distill their own whiskey. George Washington's distillery at Mount Vernon fell into disrepair in the years following his untimely death in 1799, but was discovered by archeologists in the 1990s and reconstructed by 2007. It's been turning out a batch of the presidential whiskey annually for the last four years. According to distiller Steve Bashore, back in 1798, you could get the good stuff from the former president for about $1 per gallon. In 2010, bottles of the stuff, available only at Mount Vernon for $85 a pop, sold out within hours. This year's batch will go on sale July 4th at the small, historically accurate distillery on Mount Vernon. Proceeds go back into the institution, so you can feel extra good about buying this brown liquor.

So, what does Washington's whiskey taste like? We managed to get our hands on a travel-size bottle, which sells at the gift shop for about $25. With a recipe that's heavy on the rye (60%, plus 35% corn and 5% wheat), it has a pleasantly herbaceous note. The grains used are milled at the gristmill on Mount Vernon, just steps from the distillery. The result of this handmade process is a dark amber liquid, lightly honeyed on the nose and full of oak and vanilla in the mouth. It was a little cost-prohibitive to taste the whiskey in a Manhattan, which would have probably been pretty tasty given the high rye content, but the spirit is perfect for a nightcap or after-dinner nip. A pricey, patriotic nip.