A bottle of rye made from George Washington’s own recipe and signed by former president Bill Clinton was auctioned off on Tuesday night. Photo by Emily Heil.

There was plenty of rare and fine whiskey to be drunk on Tuesday evening’s Spirit of Mount Vernon dinner to benefit George Washington’s Virginia estate, but none more precious than a single, prized bottle of rye displayed on the dais during the meal in an impressive wooden case.

The booze, one of only 24 distilled using the first president’s own recipe, fetched $32,000 at the post-dinner live auction, held under a tent on Mount Vernon’s sprawling lawn overlooking the Potomac River. That figure might shock the casual whiskey shopper, but it was actually just a bit of a letdown: despite the auctioneer’s entreaties to the thick-walleted Democrats in the crowd, the bottle, which had been signed by former president Bill Clinton, went for a few grand less than a previously auctioned one signed by former president George H.W. Bush.

So what does a nip that costs as much as a mid-sized sedan actually taste like? Chances are, the winner, Barry Becton, an executive at beverage company Diageo, might never know. Collectors typically hold onto prize bottles like those, explained Frank Coleman, the senior vice president for public affairs of the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S., the event’s host.

And even those who didn’t go home with something akin to Washington’s own stash still got a rare glimpse of what attending a house party thrown by the Founding Father might have been like — if he’d had access to artisanal whiskies from around the country, not to mention valet parking and catering for a few hundred guests. The crowd, which included House Ways and Means Committee chairman Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), French ambassador Gérard Araud, Irish ambassador Anne Anderson, Moët Hennessy CEO Christophe Naverre, and Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist, sipped cocktails as the sun set, and only a fireworks display over the river and a booming Sousa march drowned out the sound of ice clinking in glasses.

The time-machine effect was completed by a fully costumed Washington impersonator who kicked off the festivities with an in-character welcome. “Mrs. Washington and I always said that Mount Vernon was more like a well-resorted tavern than a home,” he said.

 

 

 

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