In 2003, Lincoln Henderson joined a notable collection of Master Distillers for a truly special occasion—the distilling of the first George Washington Straight Rye produced at Mount Vernon in over 200 years. Three years later, the first bottle sold at auction for $100,000—a world record for a bottle of American whiskey. It was donated back to the George Washington Distillery Museum, which opened to the public in 2007.
On Monday, Wes and Kyle Henderson returned to the historic Mount Vernon Distillery to honor Lincoln’s original involvement and the Museum Distillery’s historical mission to preserve early American whiskey distillation traditions and techniques.
For the 10th anniversary of the George Washington Distillery Museum, Wes and Kyle joined other well-known distillers to create an extremely small batch of rye whiskey based on the same techniques Washington’s distillers would have used. The project began in 1999, when Mount Vernon launched an archaeological program that sought to recreate (and learn from) Washington’s original distillery.
They explain, “Our research themes focus on three areas: whiskey production technology; spatial layout of the production within the building and at the gristmill/distillery complex; and how Mount Vernon’s distillery fits into the regional context. We are learning more about the early history of the whiskey making process, how that process would have been arranged spatially, and how Washington’s distillery compares to others in the mid-Atlantic region in terms of size and scale of production.”
So how accurate is their recreation? Even the pot stills are located on the site of the originals. On Monday, the team charged the pot still and preformed a stripping run. Next, they took the previous day’s stripping run, now a spirit run, and distilled that, which gave them a new, 140 proof spirit. Today, they’ll repeat the process.
Kyle discussed what it was like to actually work in colonial conditions, “Mashing, fermenting and distilling without any automation, no pumps, using buckets to move boiling water and mash and spirit is absolutely crazy.” Working in the cramped confines of the small, historic distillery is a far cry from Angel’s Envy’s new distillery. It’s hot, smoky and there’s very little ventilation (which explains the haziness of the photos), but for Wes and Kyle, it’s been an honor to take part in and learn first-hand from a much older tradition—one that Lincoln previously had the opportunity to uphold.