It’s been 10 years since George Washington’s Distillery at Mount Vernon re-opened and to mark the occasion, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed a bill Sunday officially naming George Washington’s Rye Whiskey the Commonwealth’s official spirit.
Not a bad tenth birthday present (or 220th birthday, depending on how you look at it).
The drinks list for the party that accompanied the signing ceremony at the first U.S. president’s restored whiskey production facility read like a who’s-who of Virginia (and, to some extent, Mid-Atlantic) craft distilling, as more than 20 spirits producers from throughout the Commonwealth (and a few from as far north as Pennsylvania) sampled their up-and-coming brands. There are worse places to sip whiskey than within the walls of an eighteenth-century distillery. The Distilled Spirits Council, which was instrumental in the distillery’s restoration, hosted the event.
“What I love about is it’s great for the farmers [and] our ag business,” McAuliffe said prior to signing the bill. “This is what we talk about every day when we talk about building that new Virginia economy…Back in the day we were well known for our distilled spirits—we had 3,600 distilleries here in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
Distilling all but disappeared from Virginia over the years, but in the past several years, craft distilling has expanded rapidly. There are now 45 distilleries within its borders.
“It seems like every week, I’m opening a new one,” McAuliffe added, noting one of the best parts of his job is attending the opening celebrations for the Commonwealth’s booming craft beverage scene.
Distilled Spirits Council CEO Kraig Naasz pointed out that the 2007 reopening of the distillery—which initially opened in 1797—helped fuel the craft spirits industry in the Commonwealth and surrounding areas.
“George Washington is not only our nation’s founding father, he’s also the father of craft distilling in America,” Naasz said. “And among his many enterprises at Mount Vernon, he was first and foremost a farmer.”
Washington’s farm manager, a Scotsman, recommended that the president take up distilling in his retirement.
“In so doing,” Naasz continued, “Washington demonstrated that distilling really is the epitome of value-added agriculture. It’s worth noting that U.S. rye whiskey sales have surged more than 1,000 percent since this distillery reopened. Perhaps it’s just kismet, but I like to think otherwise.”
The distilleries showcasing their spirits at the tasting event were: George Washington’s Distillery; Virginia Distillery Company; George Washington’s Distillery; Virginia Distillery Company; Copper Fox Distillery; Catoctin Creek; KO Distilling; Vitae Spirits Distillery LLC; Belmont Farm Distillery; Reservoir Distillery; Filibuster Bourbon; Williamsburg Distillery; Mt. Defiance Distillery; Boar Creek Whiskey; James Pepper Distilling Co.; District Distilling Co.; Lyon Distilling; Millstone Spirits Group/New Liberty; Wigle Whiskey; Hemingway Rum Co.; Spirit Lab Distilling; Bardstown Bourbon Company; Southern Grace Distilleries; and AKAL Chai Rum.