By Charles Cowdrey
When something has never been done before, you usually have to figure out how to do it as you go along.
That is how it was on August 17, on the grounds of George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, hard by the Potomac River near Washington, D.C. There, three veteran distillers – with an audience of reporters, and officials from Mount Vernon and the Distilled Spirits Council – created the first vatted American whiskey from barrels contributed by Jim Beam, Jack Daniel’s, Maker’s Mark, Wild Turkey and others, eleven different whiskeys in all.
The distillers were Dave Pickerell of Maker’s Mark (pictured, in red shirt), Joe Dangler of Virginia Gentleman (pictured, in white shirt) and Ron Call of Cruzan Rum. The whiskeys were from an earlier project related to the excavation and reconstruction of the commercial distillery George Washington operated, in conjunction with his gristmill and farm, from 1797 to 1800. They had been aging in an “undisclosed location” on the estate grounds for five years though most were well-aged when they arrived.
Dangler put together a vatting formula that the others pronounced good. To scale it up, they brought a small pump, intending to use it to transfer each whiskey in correct proportions to a 100 gallon graduated beaker, from there into one of two 120 gallon open hogsheads, and from there back into five of the by-then empty barrels, where the whiskey could “mingle” until its ceremonial bottling, scheduled for
Unfortunately, the little pump was not up to the task. That’s when the improvising began. Buckets, funnels and siphon hoses appeared. More funnels were created from empty water bottles. As the sun sank low over the Virginia hills, the distillers, council officials and sole remaining writer found themselves up to their elbows in whiskey, like sailors furiously bailing a leaking ship.
In the end, 250 gallons of the United Whiskeys of America” were produced. Bottles will be sold to support Mount Vernon education projects.