Thursday, April 30, 2009

Breaking News: Rye Whiskey soon to be sold at Mount Vernon...

For the first time since 1808, the working distillery (recently reconstructed with the financial support of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States--it burned down in 1814) at George Washington's Virginia estate, Mount Vernon, will be selling whiskey made on-site, starting in June 2009. The story is here.

Back in 1797, Washington invested in a distillery on his plantation and within a year his distiller was producing 11,000 gallons of rye whiskey annually. Most of it was sold locally for a hefty profit. After Washington's death in 1799, production tailed off.

The spirit will be rye (60% rye, 35% corn, 5% barley)--of course--and young. Most spirits made during the period were aged only briefly, if at all. Washington's rye, apparently, was especially appreciated for it's quality--which means it did spend some time, however limited, in the barrel.

Mount Vernon has been selling a limited edition American whiskey since August 2008, but this is a blend of leading American whiskeys aged on-site--not produced on site. The new stuff will be the real thing.

The grains used in this revived version were milled on-site, making this the only eighteenth-century style whiskey made in an eighteenth-century style setting using eighteenth-century techniques and technologies. It may be the most authentic rye of all. Many thanks to Virginia State Senator Linda Puller for ensuring that the distillery--operated by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association--could get the appropriate state licensing to sell distilled spirits.

Rye patriots, gather at this shrine come June to drink the nectar of our country!


DrDaRyL said...

I can appreciate re-enactment as much as the next guy--watching suburban CW buffs dying like flies at Shilo or Gettysburg is good clean American fun ("Hey buddy! Stop wiggling--you're supposed to be dead!"). But I'm not sure I want re-enacted rye.

Oh sure there's the novelty factor, and the ability to pay homage to our fore bearers for their strength and endurance ("Man, that's bad! They really drank this shit?). But do I really want Jorge Washington's unaged "MV White Lightening" in my glass, let alone in my Manhattan? Old Potrero is "interesting," but it's not subtle.

OK, I understand why George sold his rye young--he had a plantation to run and customers with the life expectancy of an average poodle. They couldn't wait. Maybe he thought soaking his teeth in a glass of rye was enough oak for him. But don't you think his memory merits a slightly better grade of rye? Since the good folks at MV have gussied up his memory ("Hide the slaves, Martha!), don't you think they could punch up his punch with a little more soak in the oak?

Oh sure, keep some of the raw stuff for the tourist from New Jersey or the geek historian in all of us, but... put some of the good stuff away. All we are saying, is give oak a chance.

Or not.

DrDaRyL said...

BTW, it IS pretty cool they're going to produce and sell something authentic--puts booze back into history. Thanks for the story. Cheers!

A rye-drinker said...

Give oak a chance!!!! Indeed! One quaff of Black Maple Hill's 23-year old rye is enough for anyone to dedicate their life to carefully aged and oaked whiskey.

That said, re-enacted rye is all about reclaiming our great heritage. Five years ago, asking for rye in nearly any bar in the country would have rewarded you with blank stares. Last night, here in Boston, I had a bartender sing the praises of Rittenhouse 100-proof rye while he made me a whiskey smash--about as historic as a cocktail gets. And it was good.

So, I say it is important to explore every version of this fine spirit, to push the envelope, because it will take us to new and exciting experiences.

Finally, I have no doubt that the savvy marketers at Mount Vernon have put away some of this rye for the ages. Perhaps in four or five years we'll have access to that too.