Our founding fathers loved booze. Benjamin Franklin brewed his own beer. Thomas Jefferson experimented with brewing in retirement, and also set up large (if unsuccessful) vineyards at Monticello. George Washington had his own recipe for brewing porter — preserved at the New York Public Library — and, in 1797, set up a whiskey and brandy distillery at Mount Vernon.
If you’re curious about how the Father of Our Country became the founder of one of the largest distilleries, you can visit the reconstructed distillery and gristmill at Mount Vernon, which reopens this Saturday after closing for five months over the winter. Visitors can see the wood-burning copper pot stills, the ledger recording brewing and sales information, an exhibit of artifacts that were found on the site, and the huge 16-foot water wheel that was used to grind grain. (Reenactors in historical garb are available to answer all sorts of questions about the brewing and bottling process.)
Sadly, no distilling is done while visitors are present — Mount Vernon says the wood-burning stills and other parts of the process are dangerous — and there are no samples to taste. If you want to know what Washington’s rye whiskey tasted like, you’ll have to come back to the distillery at 10 a.m. on Saturday, April 14, when 600 bottles of unaged whiskey — made using the 200-year-old recipe of rye, corn and malted barley — will go on sale for the eye-watering price of $95 per 375-ml bottle. (There’s a limit of two bottles per customer.)
Admission to the distillery and gristmill, not included in the ticket for Mount Vernon, is $4 for adults, $2 for children ages 6 to 11, and free for kids 5 and younger.