Saturday, March 22, 2014

First President's Distillery Releases First Brandy

Spirits aficionados and history buffs gathered at New York City’s NoMad hotel Wednesday to enjoy a sip of history, as the presidents of George Washington’s Mount Vernon and the Distilled Spirits Council unveiled the first peach brandy distilled at George Washington’s Distillery in more than 200 years.

George Washington erected his 2,250-square-foot distillery in 1797, making it among the largest whiskey distilleries in early America. It was restored (2000-2007) with financial assistance from the beverage alcohol industry. The sale of spirits made at Washington's Distillery supports Mount Vernon, Washington's home and farm. A popular visitor destination, Mount Vernon is owned and operated by a private foundation, not the government. For visitors, Washington’s Distillery opens for the season on April 1st.

Four hundred bottles of Washington's peach brandy will go on sale at the Distillery & Gristmill Gift Shop on Tuesday, April 1. Vouchers needed to buy the brandy go on sale at 8 AM. It will cost $150 per 375ml bottle.

Why so much? Only a small amount was produced and, remember, it's partially a donation to help fund the work of Mount Vernon.

This unique peach brandy was recreated at the distillery in 2010 by a team of Distilled Spirits Council small distillers using 18th century techniques. It was double-distilled in copper pot stills heated by wood fires and aged for two years in toasted oak barrels. The team of master distillers, from some of America’s leading small distilleries, was led by Ted Huber, Huber’s Starlight Distillery (IN); Brian McKenzie, Finger Lakes Distilling (NY); Lance Winters, St. George Spirits (CA); Dave Pickerell, WhistlePig Whiskey (VT) and Hillrock Estate Distillery (NY); Joe Dangler, A. Smith Bowman Distillery (VA) and Scott Harris, Catoctin Creek Distilling Company (VA).

“There’s no better place to learn about George Washington’s entrepreneurial genius than at his whiskey distillery. Washington started the distillery in order to capitalize on the growing demand for rye whiskey, but he also used it to make liquors to serve to his guests,” said Curt Viebranz, President of George Washington's Mount Vernon. According to Washington’s records, peach brandy was distilled in limited quantities but was very popular for entertaining at the Mount Vernon mansion. 

Washington’s ledgers reveal that he sold only eight gallons of peach brandy in 1798, and a distillery ledger entry from 1799 shows 60 gallons of peach brandy  sent to the “Mount Vernon house” for entertaining.

“The reconstruction of George Washington’s Distillery has shone a bright light on America’s fascinating distilling heritage,” said Peter Cressy, President of the Distilled Spirits Council, which organized the New York tasting event. “It has captivated the public and helped energize the American whiskey renaissance. Further, Washington continues to be a role model for the entire industry with his lifelong personal commitment to moderation and responsibility.”

At the event Derek Brown, renowned drinks historian and owner of The Passenger and Columbia Room in Washington, D.C., created a colonial-style punch using Washington’s peach brandy. Brown’s well-researched recipe was similar to what Martha Washington might have served at her table at Mount Vernon. He also led a discussion on the history of brandy distilling and consumption in 18th century America.

Mount Vernon’s Manager of Historic Trades, Steve Bashore, offered tastings of the inaugural peach brandy as well as Washington’s rye whiskey, which was also produced at the reconstructed distillery. 

Two of the original distilling team members, Ted Huber of Huber’s Starlight Distillery (IN) and Brian McKenzie of Finger Lakes Distilling (NY), also participated in the event by showcasing some of their modern fruit brandies.

Also at the event, participants were able to preview a rare original piece of Washington’s correspondence about the distillery that will go on exhibit March 24th, at Mount Vernon’s Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center. Just prior to his death in 1799, Washington wrote a letter to his nephew, Col. William A. Washington, discussing his successful distillery operation. In the letter, Washington described the “demand” for his whiskey in the region as “brisk” and requested his nephew’s assistance in procuring additional grain for the distillery.

The Distilled Spirits Council acquired the historic document for $18,800 at Christie’s New York auction house.

The reconstructed distillery is the only historic site in the country capable of showing the early American distilling process from seed to barrel. From April through October, visitors can see costumed distillers demonstrating the distillation process on a daily basis.

1 comment:

Vidiot said...

This was an interesting event, and the brandy is good. (Were you there? I'd have loved to have met you.)

The punch wasn't a Derek Brown original, though, but a classic Philadelphia Fish House Punch. The first one I'd had where we didn't have to kluge together a peach brandy substitute.