Rare George Washington Distillery Letter Goes on Display at Historic Decatur House

More than 100 guests enjoyed cocktails and an opportunity to preview a rare letter penned by George Washington about his profitable distillery at a special event last week in the historic Decatur House courtyard in Washington, D.C. The event was co-hosted by the White House Historical Association (WHHA) and the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS).

The 1799 letter, owned by DISCUS, discusses Washington’s successful distillery operation at Mount Vernon and is one of a few pieces of correspondence in existence that highlights the Founding Father’s occupation as a distiller. Also on display was a 1776 Continental Army Commissary List, which detailed liquor accounts for General George Washington and several other Continental officers.

The letter and commissary list will be on public display at the Decatur House from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. every Friday, May 28 – July 31.

“We are pleased to loan this rare piece of distilling history to the White House Historical Association to shine a light on America’s most celebrated distiller, George Washington,” said DISCUS President and CEO Chris Swonger, who noted the letter and commissary list were acquired by DISCUS at Christie’s, the New York auction house. 

Just prior to his death in 1799, Washington wrote the letter to his nephew, Colonel William A. Washington, a noted cavalry commander during the Revolution. 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.

“We appreciate the partnership we have with the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States to support our highly successful History Happy Hour,” said White House Historical Association President Stewart D. McLaurin. “This bi-monthly program continues to engage thousands of participants, sharing a message from White House history, complimented by a related special cocktail recipe. This unique program was created during the pandemic and will continue into the future given its extraordinary popularity and connection to our mission.” 

The event also featured a presentation and special spirits tasting of George Washington’s Premium Straight Rye Whiskey by Steve Bashore, George Washington’s Mount Vernon Director of Historic Trades.

“This is truly a remarkable letter and helps to raise awareness of an aspect of George Washington’s life after his presidency that few know about,” said Bashore. “At the time of its construction in 1797, the George Washington distillery was likely the largest whiskey distillery in America. In 1799, Washington produced 11,000 gallons of whiskey, yielding a profit of $7,500.”

Located near Washington’s Gristmill on Dogue Creek, the distillery is approximately two miles from his Mount Vernon mansion (5514 Mount Vernon Memorial Hwy). With a $2.1 million grant from the distilled spirits industry, Mount Vernon began the excavation and restoration of the distillery on its original foundation. In the Fall of 2006, the distillery was officially dedicated at a ribbon-cutting ceremony, and it opened to the public in spring 2007. 

The special preview event was attended by congressional and administration officials; embassy representatives; White House correspondents and congressional reporters; CEOs of major trade associations and spirits industry leaders. 

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