George Washington’s $95 whiskey might taste like crap

The folks in charge of the first president’s estate are putting another batch of George Washington Straight Rye Whiskey on the market, as they periodically do. But what the liquor peddlers at Mount Vernon aren’t telling you is, back in the day, the Founding Father’s whiskey was rotgut at best.

Peter Carlson’s essay in the June 2010 edition of American History describes the scene at Washington’s Virginia plantation, where, in 1797, the former president installed a 75-by-30 foot distillery and made “very bad rye whiskey” from his neighboring farm’s excess grain. (Carlson interviewed Dennis Pogue, Mount Vernon’s associate director, who politely described the swill as having “a pretty sharp taste.”) No matter about the harsh flavor, though. Washington was a rock star, so, in 1798, his distillery produced 4,000 gallons of the white lighting and sold it for 50 cents per gallon. One year later, Mount Vernon produced 11,000 gallons for public consumption. Cha-ching!

Fast-forward 200 years or so: The national historic site is releasing another 1,100 bottles of unaged whiskey on April 4, this time selling for $95 each. Hell, why not? Today’s version of Washington’s swill couldn’t be anything like that from the 18th Century, right? Actually, the Mount Vernon website proudly claims “the distillery produces whiskey using Washington’s original mash bill (60% rye, 35% corn, and 5% malted barley),” which backs the AP report from Tuesday:

Mount Vernon says the rye is the most authentic version of Washington’s whiskey available. Washington was a detailed record keeper, and distillers used the same grain recipe and fermentation process as it was done 250 years ago.

Seriously, let’s hope they’re just romancing us with Americana and that, for $95 a pop, they’ve put a little effort into changing up the recipe.