PRT: PARTY LIKE IT’S 1799

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photos: Melissa Forsyth

If you’re a whiskey drinker and love that shit more than any other liquor, like us, then you’ll dig what’s happening on Saturday: George Washington’s own whiskey will be ready to buy at Mount Vernon.

That’s alot to take in, right? So, allow us to explain: the good folks at Mount Vernon, Washington’s plantation in Northern Virginia not far from the square little city named after him, have done a great job of reconstructing his home and everything around it. And an important part of what made Washington such a baller was his distillery. One of the most profitable distilleries of its day. So, it was only a matter of time till the buffs who love that history shit reconstructed the still and started making the whiskey Mount Vernon was so well known for.

Washington was an insanely successful businessman, as well as the first American president. And in his time, whiskey had come to replace rum as the preferred drink of the people because its main ingredients – grains – could be grown at home, making it a helluva lot easier to transport and sell than the sugarcane-based rum coming from the Caribbean. George was also a meticulous record keeper, so his entire process was easy for the ‘nactment folks at the restored Mount Vernon grist mill and still to nerd-out on.

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What we find really interesting, though, is the greater history of whiskey during Washington’s distillery years: see, the young federal government had a war to pay for. The Revolution was expensive and the easiest way to put some cash in the till was to tax something that most everyone used. Well, the fresh air couldn’t be taxed by the breath, so whiskey was gonna have to do. But when the farmers on the western frontier – which was the Pittsburgh, PA area at that time – started getting visits from the tax man at their stills before they could even get the liquor over the mountains to the port of Philadelphia, it sat none too well with them.

Farmers on the frontier of the late 18th century had a problem: they could grow good corn and rye, but there was no good way to transport those raw materials to the closest port, Philadelphia, before they spoiled. But if they turned that grain into liquor, it wouldn’t spoil and it could travel easily and they could make some good coin off it when they reached Philly. But ONLY when they reached Philly.

So, when the tax man showed up at the still with his hand out, instead of walking up to these frontiersmen after a long night in Philly with wads of cash in their pockets, SHIT. WENT. DOWN.

The Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 not only made enemies of the state out of these Scots and Irish making whiskey on the wild frontier, but was responsible for creating the culture of moonshine. And it was also the only time a sitting President personally led troops to battle: the Rebellion was such a shitstorm and PR disaster for Washington that he was compelled to march to Pittsburgh to put the whole thing to rest. All the while, his Mount Vernon distillery was making the same stuff. Was he paying his own whiskey tax, too? Good question.

Now, you can have a bottle of the same whiskey Washington would’ve sipped during these early years of the Republic. The Mount Vernon still will put out 1,100 bottles of rye and they’ll put you back $95 each. Adjusted for inflation, that would be about $2,000.00/bottle in Washington’s time. So sip it neat and slowly, for chrissakes.

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