Heady Mix of Rye and Royalty Celebrates Distillery's Return

By Annie Gowen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 28, 2006

The folks at Mount Vernon unveiled their newly restored distillery yesterday, a liquormaking enterprise that had been quite the moneymaker for the estate during George Washington's day. The six-year restoration project culminated in a glitzy ceremony where Prince Andrew, Duke of York (otherwise known as Fergie's ex), turned up to help snip the ribbon.

"Can I just say this is an incredible opportunity for America to restore its distilling heritage lost in the tragedy of Prohibition?" said Frank Coleman, the spokesman for the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, which helped spearhead the restoration.

Sure, Frank, say whatever you like. Now where's His Royal Highness hiding?

The prince turned up a short while later, striding in as the fife-and-drum corps tootled the music from "The Quiet Man." He was wearing a blue suit, a blue shirt and what appeared to be a yellow Hermes tie. (Sorry, Charlie: Even with his graying hair, Andrew is still the Cute Beatle.)

During the ceremony, he looked fierce and unmoved on the dais, even as Mount Vernon's executive director, James C. Rees, told a naughty anecdote about the prominent Virginia families that were Washington's loyal customers.

"Some very big families, including the Lees, were buying up liquor with great abandon!" Rees noted.

In his remarks, the prince noted the "historic moment" for Mount Vernon and the "core of the interrelationship" between the two allied countries and their private industry.

Actually, the distillery -- which sits on the grounds of the historic Grist Mill, about two miles south of the main estate -- will produce liquor only occasionally for special events, Mount Vernon officials said.

"This is drinkable?" the prince quipped, when he was presented with a souvenir bottle of aged Mount Vernon whiskey. "Not that I drink any of this stuff, but I'll definitely have it . . . on use at home."

Home being the Royal Lodge at Windsor.

Now 46, the prince is visiting the States this week for his job as Britain's special representative for trade and investment, according to Steve Atkins, a spokesman for the British Embassy. Andrew met Tuesday with Donald Trump in New York to discuss plans for Trump's Scottish golf course development; later in the week, it's off to meetings in New Orleans and Dallas.

(Atkins was mum when asked about media speculation that the prince's trip might include a visit with Angie Everhart -- the flame-haired model who is his rumored love interest. "I couldn't possibly speculate on his private life," Atkins said.)

Washington's original distillery dates to 1797, built after Washington's land manager (a Scotsman!) persuaded him to try to make whiskey to sell locally. The stiff brew -- a mixture of rye, corn and malted barley -- sold so well that the operation was soon one of the largest in the country.

The Distilled Spirits Council helped with much of the fundraising for the $2.1 million restoration project, and many of the liquor producers turned up yesterday, milling about on the lawn and wearing name tags. ("They're not actually going to distill here, are they?" one asked. "Yup, they're makin' hooch, babe," another answered.) It will open to the public officially in April.

And yesterday they did a demonstration.

Chris Morris, a master distiller for Kentucky bourbon maker Woodford Reserve, sent a foul-looking brew of cooked grains through a temporary still, which looked a little bit like a copper kettle on top of a brick barbecue pit. Wood smoke perfumed the air. The raw liquor squeezed out of the tube into a pitcher, drop by drop. It tasted a little bit like tequila.

"It's really neat to think that the father of our country, a great man, had his own distillery. What American wouldn't want his own distillery?" Morris said.

And how!

Then the prince wandered by.

"Go ahead," Morris urged him. "Stick your finger down there and get a taste."

"Oh, I wouldn't dare, " he demurred. And then he was off in a gleam of sunlight and a volley of cannon fire.

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