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George Washington Was a Rye Distiller

Our first President, George Washington, was a commercial distiller. That’s right, this is probably not the presidential history lesson you gleaned in your High School history class, but George Washington once had one of the largest whiskey distilleries in the country!

How exactly did George Washington become a distiller? In 1797, his farm manager, James Anderson (who had prior experience distilling grain), convinced George Washington (who had no experience) that distilling could be lucrative for them (George Washington’s Mount Vernon, n.d.). With the combined crops on Mount Vernon, their large water supply and the merchant gristmill, they had several key elements in place. Construction for the distillery was underway by October of 1797 (George Washington’s Mount Vernon, n.d.).

A man working at the Mad River Distiller on Revolution Rye whiskey

Operating with five copper pot stills and working in a space more than 2x the size of the average distillery at the time, George Washington’s Distillery produced around 11,000 gallons of whiskey—that’s almost 17x the output from the average distillery back in 1799 (George Washington’s Mount Vernon, n.d.). It’s important to note that the incredible volume of production at George Washington’s distillery would not have been possible without the skillful work of six enslaved men, whose names were Hanson, Peter, Nat, Daniel, James and Timothy (George Washington’s Mount Vernon, n.d.).

After the American Revolution, which ended in 1783, whiskey replaced rum as the most popular spirit in the country. Given that context, it is not surprising that George Washington’s Distillery predominantly made rye whiskey, which was made from 60% rye, 35% corn and 5% malted barley (George Washington’s Mount Vernon, n.d.). More than a century later, rye fell out of a favor due to Prohibition and the availability of cheaper alternative grains. Even a decade ago, you would have been hard pressed to find a single bottle of rye on the back shelf of a bar. Since then, however, the spirit that was popularized and mass produced by George Washington has seen something of a rebirth, with small American craft distilleries taking up the challenge to recreate the magic of this peppery and complex distillate. Mad River Distillers is among those small craft distilleries.

Lineup of Mad River Distillers Revolution Rye bottles.

Inspired by history, our award-winning and Vermont-made Revolution Rye is a traditional American spirit that is made using local and regional rye. At Mad River Distillers, we use three distinct rye varietals, including chocolate malted rye, which lends the spirit it’s cocoa richness and finish. The rye is distilled using our German still to bring out it’s delicate earthy and peppery nuances, with hints of walnut, berry and tropical spice. The “all rye” mash bill has a portion of “toasted rye,” which releases the aromatic chocolate and mocha notes into the distillate, resulting in a rye that is both perfect sipping neat and in cocktails.

This concludes today’s brief history lesson. We hope you learned something new and wonderful about one of our favorite and historically significant spirits. If you’re interested in trying our nod to this great American spirit, visit our Purchase page to see where you can find it locally or have it shipped. 

For more information about the history of George Washington and his Distillery, visit the Mount Vernon website.

Revolution Rye awards include a Gold Medal from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, a Silver Medal from WSWA, and a Bronze Medal from both ADI and ACSA. It received 92 points from Wine Enthusiast and was named as a Top 100 Spirit.

Written in part by Brianne Lucas and published on February 9, 2022.

George Washington’s Mount Vernon. (n.d.). Ten Facts About the Distillery. 
Retrieved February 8, 2022, from

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