Wednesday, December 13, 2017

What We've Learned Making Whiskey as Washington Did

Becky Harris, distiller at Catoctin Creek Distillery, with Chuck Cowdery at George Washington's Distillery, October 24, 2017.
The rebuilt George Washington Distillery opened to the public in 2007, after a decade of study, excavation, and reconstruction. Making whiskey there, as Mount Vernon does for eight weeks each year, is a great show for visitors but it also helps historians better understand Washington, his business enterprises, and the technology of distilled spirits production in the late 18th century.

What has been learned in a decade of operation? We asked Steve Bashore, Mount Vernon's Director of Historic Trades. You will find his answer in the new issue of The Bourbon Country Reader.

Early distillers faced many challenges. On the American frontier, one of the greatest was transportation, the need to get their whiskey to distant markets. Waterways came first, followed by the railroads. Most of Kentucky's historic distilleries that are still in operation today are located where they are because of where the railroads ran in the mid-to-late 19th century. That's the other tale in the new Reader.

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Harry in Wash DC said...

We live in Washington DC, and every few years we hit "tourist" sites in SEP/OCT after the crowds disappear. This SEP, we visited Mt. Vernon to see the new museum exhibits. The short shuttle bus ride to the mill and distillery included a nice recorded message about the history of the area we were riding through. The guide at the mill (well, the "miller")even showed me how to adjust the size of the milled corn for its various uses. The distiller described the hands-on, volunteer efforts at moving the mash to the still, etc., and spent a good bit of time answering my questions based on his several seasons' worth of making whiskey there. IN SUM - DO NOT SKIP this tour and visit if you go to Mt. Vernon.

Bob Page - Charlotte, North Carolina said...

Col. Cowdery,
This post about the education provided by the Washington distillery convinced me to subscribe to your newsletter. I’m looking forward to it.

Here’s a column idea. What are the details of the taxes paid by distilleries, and by distributors, and by retailers, and by consumers, on whiskey and spirits in general? When are they paid? On a 4-year-old Bottled in Bond product, for example, does a distillery pay taxes on the barrel of whiskey throughout the maturation process, or only when it’s dumped and bottled? Does the distillery pay taxes on the value of the barrel contents for each of the four years at that time, or does it pay taxes only on the value of the contents at the time of dumping? What about on a 10-year-old Bottled in Bond? I think Lewis Rosenstiel lobbied in the late 1950s to extend the bonded period because he screwed up whiskey forecasts around the Korean War, but I don’t know how much this still applies.

Or another idea — whiskey geeks know mash bills and Four Roses yeast codes and the percentage of flavor that oak barrels contribute, but I would wager that we know far less about percentages of product cost and final bottle price contributed by taxes, marketing costs, barrel costs, ingredient costs. How much more per bushel does barley cost than corn or rye, for example? How much do different grades or varieties of corn cost?

Thank you for your many contributions to the whiskey community.

Iakov Alenchik said...

All issues are excellent, but I found this issue amazingly excellent. The transportation article really resonated with me in how it synergizes different aspects of history, and I am a railfan.

Any reader of this blog who does not subscribe to TBCR should make doing so a new year's resolution.