<hd>Washington's "Liquid Gold" Flows Again
<sh>Distillery and Gristmill capture Washington's innovative entrepreneurial spirit
<1b>By Chuck Hagee
<bt>On August 16, 1777, General George Washington advised the President of Congress, "The benefits arising from moderate use of Liquor, have been experienced in All Armies, and are not to be disputed!!"
He carried forth that belief in the "moderate use of Liquor," into the years following his presidency when he created the largest distillery in early America located next to his Gristmill. It proved to be one of his best investments producing 11,000 gallons of rye whiskey in 1799 valued at $7,500.
That entrepreneurial spirit of America's founding father and first Commander in Chief was celebrated last Friday when the reconstructed distillery was officially dedicated marking the commencement of a "spirited" grand opening weekend 210 years after Washington himself tasted the first results of his investment. Then and now they proved to be "Washington's Liquid Gold."
In addition to Ladies Association Regent Gay Hart Gaines and Mount Vernon Executive Director James C. Rees taking center stage at the official ceremony, there was Dr. Peter Cressy, president and CEO, Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, whose organization, with the support of the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America, donated $1.5 million toward the $2.1 million excavation and reconstruction project.
"Washington was the most successful whiskey distiller of his time, and a strong proponent of responsibility and moderation. Modern distillers could have no better role model," Cressy told the crowd seated under a crystal clear sky next to the two story, 2,250 square feet, stone and wood distillery with its five copper stills brewing away.
"We (the Council) realized how important this project was to introduce George Washington as an entrepreneur. As a former university president I have had to raise a lot of money over the years. But I have never had such an easy task as raising money for this project. I had all the money in only six days," he said.
That philanthropic capability was also highlighted by Rees when he
introduced Gains, the 18th Regent of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association. "When we started the campaign to raise funds for our new capital campaign our goal was $85 million. We have raised $116 million thanks in large part to Gay Hart Gains. She is a leader among leaders," Rees said.
"For 10 years we have had scientists, researchers, and archaeologists working on this project. It is a tribute to George Washington entrepreneurship. He loved making a profit. And, his ethics in business were as strong as they were in his military and governmental careers," Gaines said.
"This day is here due to the generosity of the distillers and to the support from the State of Virginia and most particularly Senator Toddy Puller for her total support in getting the necessary legislation passed," Gaines stated. Puller (D-36) introduced the legislation authorizing Mount Vernon Estate to produce and sell whiskey created at the distillery.
"The bill actually sailed through the Senate with the presentation of a bottle of whiskey in the subcommittee," Puller said. She then presented a framed copy of the legislation to Gaines.
EXPLAINING THE LONG and tedious process to establish the actual location of the distillery and determine its true size, Dr. Dennis Pogue, director, Restoration, Historic Mount Vernon, explained, "Although historians knew for years Washington had a distillery here, archeologist dug for five summers to establish the actual footprint."
He noted that Creesy first came to the site when it was nothing more than an archeological dig. "One of the real benefits of having the distillers involved was that they brought their expertise with them," Pogue said. "They are among the real heros of this day, along with all the others that made this happen."
In addition to Puller's presentation of the legislation, Esther Vassar, administrator, Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, and John Manfreda, administrator, U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, presented Gaines and Rees with the necessary licenses
to begin distillery operations. "This license authorizes you to distill and sell 5,000 gallons or less per year," Vassar said.
Following their presentations, George Washington, portrayed by William Sommerfield, came onto the stage to welcome all the dignitaries and guests to his distillery. "Our job is to operate this distillery -- at a profit," Washington said to his farm manager and the force behind creating the distillery, Scotsman James Anderson, portrayed by Terry Burgler.
Anderson, who have distilling experience in America and Scotland,
convinced Washington with an abundant amount of excellent grain from the Gristmill and water supply from Dogue Creek distilling whiskey could be very profitable. Starting with only two stills, Anderson expanded to five within a year.
The Distillery and Gristmill will be open on a daily basis from now through October with costumed distillers and millers demonstrating both processes. Visitors will also be able to tour the Distillery's second floor which housed the living quarters of John Anderson, son of James Anderson, who served as the distillery manager and his assistant Peter Bingle.
Both the distillery and Gristmill are located on Route 235, three miles south of Mount Vernon Estate. Admission to the site is $4 for adults, $2 for children ages six to 11, and free for children five and under. When combined with admission to Mount Vernon, tickets are $2 for adults and $1.50 for children 6 to 11.
Tickets can be purchased at Mount Vernon's Ford Orientation Center or at the Gristmill Shop on site. It is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Additional information is available at VisitMountVernon.org or by calling 703-780-2000; TDD 703-799-8697.