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Mount Vernon to sell first batch of aged whiskey

Wednesday - 10/12/2011, 3:53pm  ET

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When the unaged rye whiskey, left, was released for sale it sold out in hours. The tw-year aged whiskey will be available for sale beginning 10 a.m., Oct. 22 at the Mount Vernon estate and George Washington's Distillery. (WTOP/Meera Pal)
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Meera Pal, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Last year, when the first George Washington Rye Whiskey was made available for sale to the public, it sold out in a matter of hours.

The line snaked from the Old Grist Mill and Distillery in Mount Vernon, Va. down to the main road, says Dennis Pogue, vice president of preservation at the Mount Vernon estate.

"The public interest in this project has just been phenomenal," he says. "When we got into this we didn't set out to be a liquor maker, but people's interests were so high we decided that we would make small amounts and offer it for sale."

On Oct. 22, the first batch of two-year aged George Washington Rye Whiskey will go on sale at the Mount Vernon and Grist Mill gift shops, and with only 300 bottles available, Pogue expects an even bigger turnout.

His tips on getting a bottle?

"I think you need to come early and be prepared to stand in line," he says. "We'd like to have enough to get to the people who are really interested in tasting it."

On a cool fall Wednesday, under an overcast sky, the distillery opened its doors for a preview of the aged whiskey and a peek at the process of distilling apple brandy.

One of the five copper stills was actively distilling fermented apple cider from a local Maryland farm and turning it into apply brandy that will eventually be sold to the public, as well.

Dave Pickerell, the master distiller at Mount Vernon and the former master distiller of Maker's Mark, stood over the men working, ready to taste and test the amber-hued liquid.

Last year, Pickerell oversaw the distillation of Mount Vernon peach brandy.

"I wanted to just lay down under the still and just drink it," Pickerell says with a laugh.

He explained that the apple brandy, which will undergo a double distillation process to reach 110 proof, will then be aged in lightly toasted oak barrels for at least two years.

Pickerell, who now consults in the craft distillery industry, has been working with Mount Vernon since 2001, before they began distilling for public consumption.

"This (distillery) one holds a special place in my heart," he says. "Being able to step back in time 200 years -- we were able to pronounce 'This is the first batch of rye whiskey made at this still in 200 years.'" The sense of history that that brings is just beyond description."

Pickerell admits that when they first began distilling there was a level of incredulity.

"Can you really make good, tasty rye whiskey with 1700-vintage equipment methods and means? And, when it first started coming off the still we knew we had something special."

"We were surprised at how marvelous it tasted fresh off the still."

George Washington's Distillery was reconstructed in 2007 with help from the Distilled Council of the United States. The building was designed to look as close as possible to the original distillery using information from archeological and historical research conducted on the property.

It is the only distillery in the country to authentically demonstrate the 18th century process of distilling.

The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States calls the history Mount Vernon distillery the gateway to the American Whiskey Trail.

Steve Bashore, the manager of historic trades at Mount Vernon, says Washington entered the whiskey business late in his life, right after his presidency.

The distillery eventually grew into Washington's most profitable of his commercial ventures.

Today, the whiskey sales bring in a small amount that is used to further the educational programs at the estate.

Pogue says they made about $15,000 with the sale of the unaged whiskey. The two-year-old aged whiskey will be sold at a higher price point -- $185 for each 375 milliliter bottle.

Despite the public demand, Pogue says there are no plans to increase batch size.

"I would like to keep it small, keep it special and keep it really interesting," he says.

For more information on the Mount Vernon Estate, click here.

For more information on the George Washington's Distillery click here.

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