The Book

January 2021

George Washington is arguably one of the most famous figures in Americana. We all learned quite a bit about Washington while young and in school. However, it turns out that there are some very interesting parts of Washington’s life that were conveniently left out of our schooling. It might come as a surprise to you to learn that when Washington died in 1799, he was the owner of one of the largest distilleries in America. The Mount Vernon distillery produced good amounts of brandy, but was known for its rye whiskey. If you are interested in this story, pick up a copy of “Founding Spirits” by Dennis J. Pogue.

There are numerous books penned on the history of whiskey distilling in America. However, the bulk of all of these books tend to focus on large scale distilling, such as the behemoths that currently dominate the whiskeyscape in the Bluegrass State. Founding Spirits tackles distilling history from the angle of the farmer-distiller. Founding Spirits looks at the cherry tree chopper as a land-owning farmer who was looking for additional ways to generate revenue off of his land. Many farmers grew grain, but would eventually find that distilling the grain proved to be rather profitable in comparison to selling grain as foodstuffs, thus a natural extension of the farm in late 18th and 19th century America. While it is true that Washington owned far more land than the average farmer, his motivation for running a farm distillery equally applies to thousands of smaller farm distilleries that existed during his era. This aspect of distilling history is often grazed over rather sparsely in whiskey history books, but it’s important history. To better understand how big distilleries came to be, one must understand why small farm distilleries were more of necessity than a luxury.

 If you’re one who is just now learning that Washington not only loved alcoholic beverages, but owned a large distillery, you might be asking “Why was the information withheld from me in school?”  The willful deceit began on April 2, 1840, when six Temperance men in Baltimore, MD formed a group known as The Washingtonians or The Washington Total Abstinence Society. Despite George Washington’s known association with booze, he was adopted as the symbol for their Temperance group. From that point on, Americans opposed to alcohol consumption illicitly pirated Washington as their symbol… as their icon. The farce of Washington as a Temperance icon has continued until relatively recently. The remnants of Washington’s Mount Vernon distillery were brought back to the attention of academia in 1933. In 1935, plans were made to restore the Mount Vernon distillery until lingering Dry forces, still licking their wounds after the Repeal of Prohibition, raised enough of a ruckus about Washington being “their symbol” that the project was killed for many decades to come. It is a fact that in 1935, lingering Dry forces willfully sought to keep the truth of Washington’s distilling heritage out America’s reality. Founding Spirits goes on to tell the story of the eventual restoration of Washington’s distillery.

The Dram

Sagamore Spirit Cask Strength Rye is sourced from MGP out of Lawrenceburg, IN until their own distillate comes of age. However, I would caution not to look at Sagamore as just another MGP rye. Sagamore treats MGP well. Sagamore Cask Strength is a blend of multiple MGP rye mashbills with at least 4 years of age. The proof clocks at 112.4 proof. God bless. On the palate, you’ll encounter a good amount of oak, toffee, cherry, dill, and leather. It’s a rather well balanced rye whiskey with a full body. It’s solid. You’ll enjoy it.

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