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Issue 53 - Recreating history

Whisky Magazine Issue 53
January 2006

 

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Recreating history

What happens to United States Presidents after they leave office? The first one made whiskey. Charles K. Cowdery reports

Mount Vernon is George Washington's estate in northern Virginia, just outside of Washington, DC. It is America's most-visited historic home. The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, which owns the estate today, is a private, non-profit organization founded in 1853. It is the oldest national historic preservation organization in the USA.

One tradition of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association is that board members stay at the estate during their periodic meetings.

In the past, this meant they slept in the mansion.

By the 1950s, this practice was deemed incompatible with the structure's preservation and a new building, the Quarters, was erected on the grounds a discrete distance from the historic structures.

I am quartered at the Quarters on occasion of the dedication of George Washington's distillery. It is late evening when I arrive and in the morning I proceed downstairs to the kitchen. There, making coffee for us, is the Father of Our Country, attired as the gentleman farmer he became again in 1797.

An historic reenactor so convincing I never thought to ask his real name, the General greets us in character and we are given our informal introduction to George Washington, distiller, by the man himself.

It has long been known that George Washington operated a distillery on his estate in the years between his presidency, which ended in 1797, and his death in 1799.

This was usual for a large grain farmer who also operated a gristmill. With a distillery, surplus grain and grist...

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