…But a bottle of George Washington’s Rye, distilled only once every two years.
That’s right, Christmas came a little early for the Bourboneer this year! Rick, my best friend of over 20 years, surprised me with an unexpected and exceptional gift. You see, my present this Christmas hails from a limited batch of rye whiskey distilled at Washington’s rebuilt Mount Vernon, Va., distillery. My particular bottle was distilled in 2014 and then aged two years in a charred oak barrel (the minimum requirement for straight rye whiskey) for release in 2016. But the inception of this particular style of whiskey began many years earlier. About 218 years earlier if you’re truly counting.
Back in 1798, our country’s first president operated five copper-pot stills on a 2,000 acre plantation overlooking the Potomac River. Washington’s distillery at Mount Vernon was one of the largest in the country, at the time, and produced about 11,000 gallons of whiskey annually. He didn’t do it alone however, A Scot named James Anderson was his master distiller. Anderson concocted a 60% rye, 35% corn, 5% malted barley mash-bill for the Mount Vernon whiskey. This is the same mash-bill used today. But their final product looked somewhat different than the rye whiskey we are used to, including the recreation rye that I write about today (pictured above).
In the late 18th century, aging whiskey in charred oak barrels was a new art. As the highly debatable legend has it, Baptist Pastor Elijah Craig started the charred barrel aging process in Fayette County, Ky just about the same time Washington produced his rye in Virginia (late 18th century) . But the practice hadn’t quite become the popular and trusted method used by every distillery. So Washington’s mass produced rye was, in fact, clear and colorless (what we’d call high wine these days). Actually, it was a more efficient product because it lacked the necessity for the 2 or more year aging process. Back then it was all about quantity and profit. After Washington’s passing however, the whiskey began being aged in charred American oak barrels which provided the dark amber color and flavor we all have become accustomed to in our rye (and bourbon) whiskey.
In 2007, Washington’s distillery was reconstructed on it’s original site, according to archaeological and historical records, and not only reopened to the public but began making whiskey once again. And that’s where my story comes in to play. It’s from this bi-annual incarnation that I enjoy my best friends generous gift. But when I say “enjoy” I mean enjoy as a collector’s item only. I will not dink this gifted rye. It’s too special to me. I know Rick spent a good chunk of change on this 375ml bottle. But what is more meaningful, much more so than the price, is his immediate consideration of me when he purchased the rye, despite the price.
So Rick, my friend, it is with a grateful heart that I say thank you and Merry Christmas! I don’t think any gift I can give in return can match your generosity and consideration.
Bourbon enjoyed while writing this article: Ancient, Ancient Age KBSW, 43% ABV or 86 proof (aged 10 years) Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfurt, Ky.
References: Bourbon Curious, Fred Minnick, Zenith Press 2015, Minneapolis, MN., George Washington’s Mount Vernon, LearnmoreatMountVernon.org/Distillery.