tv George Washingtons Distillery CSPAN January 7, 2017 10:15am-10:43am EST
you today by your cable or satellite provider. each week, american history tv's american artifacts takes you into archives, museums, and historic sites from around the country. next located about three miles , from george washington's mount vernon estate in virginia is a reconstructed 18th-century style whiskey distillery. "american history tv" visited to learn about washington's distilling business on a day when the staff was making apple brandy. dennis pogue: my name is dennis pogue, i am the vice president of preservation here at vernon and we are standing in front of , a reconstruction of washington's distillery. most people have no idea that washington not only was first in war, first in peace, but also one of the first in distilling. as it turns out, he operated a
major distillery here, and it was a very important part of the plantation economy. historians have known this for a long time, but about 10 years ago, we decided that we wanted to explore that. we came out here with archaeologists, excavated the site, found were the distillery -- where the distillery had been located, did about five years of excavation and research, and decided that we had a wonderful opportunity to bring this back and to show what an 18th-century distillery was like. you can't see this anywhere else in the country. >> there is a gristmill here as well? how do these two relate to each other? dennis pogue: the reason the gristmill is here is because washington already had a gristmill that was a major part of the plantation. he made lots of money off of it over the years. in 1797, at the end of his second term as president, he was getting ready to come back to mount vernon, and he hired a
scotsman by the name of james anderson to be his plantation manager. and apparently all scotsmen knew how to distill, or at least anderson dead. as soon as he was on the job, he lobbied washington and said, if you are ok with this, i can make you a lot of money by distilling whiskey. washington initially said, i don't know much about that. we have letters that he wrote to friends asking their advice. they said as long as he could make a good product, there was no doubt it would be successful. so he agreed. and in 1797 they started here in a small way, using an existing building. they bought a couple of stills. by the end of the year, they were convinced it was going to be successful, so washington agreed to build the building behind us. so they bought three more stills set it up, and by the early , spring of 1798, it was up and running. >> this is a large building. looks like it was expensive to build. how did you get the funding for this, and how did you decide the architecture of it?
dennis pogue: again we have , great records. the archaeologists took a footprint of the building. when you go inside, you can see where the stills are located. we have five stills that you see in here behind me. each one is located where the archaeologist found evidence for it, either in the form of remnants of the brick base of the furnace or, you know, the heavily burned resin soil where the fire had been. we have two fires here, one overseer, a third here. the floor is here. we found evidence of a brick floor, a boiler, water for the mashing operation, and then where all the mash tabs are located, that stone laura comes from the archaeological evidence. that really gave us the footprint of the building and allowed them to place and position different parts of the process. the documentary evidence gave us all sorts of other information.
stills the size of the because we had the records of when he bought them. we know the stonemason spent a certain amount of time raising the walls. we knew that they were 10 foot high walls. we had all sorts of records from the carpenters and other workmen. we were able to put all that together really to get a good picture of what we think washington's distillery would have looked like. when you go inside, i think it is very, very accurate to what washington's building would have looked like. we know there were two doors and windows because there are records of that. there is a lot of information about it. although this building was gone by 1814. it seems to have burned by that time, only 15 years after it was built. the report we got for this was very important. mount vernon could not have done it on our own. but the distilled spirits council of the united states, you know the folks that , represent the liquor industry in the country, they came.
we got with them very early on in the project and told that we have this wonderful educational opportunity to tell a great story about george washington , and is also a great story about the heritage of spirits in american history. they supported that, and came up with over $2 million to support the resort and then the -- research and then the reconstruction of the distillery. what washington was making was a rye whiskey. we know his recipe was 60% right -- rye grain 35% corn, and the , rest barley. that was a typical, popular recipe from the time period. rye is different from the whiskey most people drink today, which is made mostly out of corn. rye is spicier, sharper. but it was the popular grain at the time. and how they would do this if they would take all those different grains, and they would
mix them in these large barrels called mash tabs. -- tubs. they would put them in and add boiling water. behind us is the boiler where the water is heated up. you would have to dip that out, and bring it over to one of large -- these large tubs deposit the grain in here, put , the boiling water in contact the mash rake in, and stir it. you stir it up and get it all together, that you continue to do that until this was filled up. by doing that, essentially, what you are trying to do is to cook the grain to turn the starches in the grain into sugars. once that happens, you introduce the yeast, and the yeast works on the sugars to produce the alcohol. it takes three to five days to do that. once that is done, you are ready to distill. you take it over to the still, and the idea there is you are separating the alcohol from the
liquid, so you end up with a much higher concentration of alcoholic spirit when you do -- you are done doing that. my name is steve bayshore, i manage the historic trade department at mount vernon, and that includes the distillery as well as the blacksmith shop and other sites. -- and the pioneer farm sites. we take care of the living history elements of mount vernon. we are making apple cider brandy. we are doing that is next three days. the apples would have been grown in an orchard on the property. you can see some of them right here. you know, this type we are using are the newton pippin's and two know varieties which we washington grew. they've got to be pressed or crushed in a apple press which includes a device to crank and crush the apples up into chunks.
that would have been a large press in the 18th century. what have had a rectangular press with a wooden jackscrew that was great down and squeezed all the -- cranked down and squeezed all the apples. the pulp is basically what you are squishing, and from that, you get the juice. that was collected in buckets. from that point on, you're going to ferment that juice. we are fermenting this large barrel called a hog's head. 6% alcoholut 5% to content win you're done. -- when you're done. the fermentation for apples is longer than for whiskey, which was also made here, which was the main commodity. you are looking at 14 to 30 days perhaps of fermentation, depending on the type of yeast s that are used. at this time, we are fermenting champagne yeast, which is a little faster acting. it really took about 10 to 14 days to complete the fermentation.
but in washington's time, they did not know a lot about the science of the yeast. today that is very much a trade secret in many places. they will tell you everything, but they will not tell you what type of yeast they are using. they all usually have labs they use for the yeast. in washington's day, the orchard had naturally occurring yeast. well may have let that apple juice all press and let that naturally occurring yeast get in there and do its job over period of weeks. 6% is at the end of fermentation. so we are going to then distill it, which will get the proof too much higher alcohol content by volume. by running it through these big pot stills we are now, we are going to get 80, 90, maybe 100 proof through doing to distillations. --two distillations. right now, we have all five stills charged with the fermented apple juice.
as these stills run today, but it might get to 50 proof, maybe 60. we will collect all of that in the first run and then run it through on wednesday, double everything. everything we make the first two days a second time through. each time you distill, you gain proof, but you lose folly them. -- volume. our goal is to get 50 to gallons 60 in the process. >> was this something that a lot of farmers would have done to make apple brandy or was that unusual? steve boshare: no, it was a drink at the time. really a still is a piece of farm equipment for the 18th century, even the 19th century. so if you are a small farmer, you are probably going to make a little whiskey on the side. applejack, as they call it, or brandy. you think of the amount of orchards some of these farms had, it was natural. alcohol is also legal tender. you can sell the cider for a
good price. small commodity to be involved in even if you are a small farmer. we have a number of staff here that are on the historic trades department work for me. , a couple of full-time people and then some of our part-time staff. the regularly give tours of the distillery and the farm and the mill. several of these guys have made the whiskey run, so they know how to operate all the equipment. and then we have the master distiller, david pickerell, here who is our main consultant for doing whiskey and brandy. dave hughes to be the master distiller for makers mark. -- used to be the master distiller for makers mark. he is now independent. over the past when he five years, many people are familiar with how microbrew beer took off. there is a movement now and craft distilling. dave is involved in a number of
entrepreneurial projects. he is a chemical engineer. he brought a couple of friends who are distillers. , anduns the top men another young man from the hudson river valley of new york, just beginning the process of building his distillery. they are here to learn with dave and kind of get a taste of the history of distilling as well as help us. david pickerell: i encourage people to name their stills all the time. so this one is pam, and this one is sarah, and that is maggie, and this is sondra, and this is elizabeth. so please send me spirits, elizabeth. that's the pneumonic. today we are having a lot of fun doing our first run apple brandy distillation. and this is one of our five copper stills. they orient themselves kind of from my right to my left in order of size.
the smallest one of the stills is about 62 gallons. the largest is about 95 gallons. onethis is just the very top of a rather large, semi spherical shaped then a conical still. the still itself is probably that big. so it is probably four feet across in size, and then it runs all the way down to about here. for the base. so this is a 95 gallons in here. what is the size of a bathtub in volume. i have been coming here for an on 10 years. one of the things i was fascinated with was the level of detail the archaeologists found in uncovering the site. i'm not an archaeologist. i am a chemical engineer, and i make whiskey for a living. but it was fun because even uneducated me to stand at the
archaeological site and say, obviously the boiler went here. this is the match floor -- mash floor. so it laid out very nicely for us, and a tremendous amount of information was easily discoverable. there are things we learned about the operation here that that are transferable into modern craft of distilling. things like the use of hops as a natural antibacterial agent. now people think hops are only in beer. but as a craft distiller i can , tell you there are times i use hops when i need bacteria control. things like how to make a really high percent rye mash, because rye is a brat of a grain. and it gets too thick too quick , and if you don't stir it in enough the first time -- we made the foam that ate manhattan.
it foamed all night long and it was two feet deep and six feet wide when we came in in the morning, and it didn't stop until, until we distilled it. and so we finally learned how to control it by studying what they did. they actually got lard and put it on a paintbrush. that eventually would make the phone -- we learned not to make the foam in the first place. all of it came from from studying their techniques. >> there were a number of manuals written during this time that described how to layout a still house, the most efficient way of doing things. we were able to look at those manuals and it all fit very well with what's going on in the larger distilling industry.
>> it's kind of a delicate balance. these are direct buyers still. in george washington's time, this was ubiquitous. we would go to different phases during the process. the first thing we would do is take what is called the onion, the top part of the still, and remove it. then you start on low fire. you basically build a fire with the intent of getting the flames hot enough that the heat goes up the flu properly. otherwise, you wind up with smoke in the room. once we have the fire established, then we establish water flow in the condensers. this is the old worm style condenser. it runs down and turns, and then coils around inside the condenser. it comes out the bottom in the back, and then it's right here is a liquid. then it's all about balancing
the amount of heat we are putting in the still in the amount of water we are running through the condenser. it was off, so it just needs to be balanced. and then also keeping track of the amount of heat so that we can manage the process. don't try this at home, but the way we manage the heat is we feel the still to see where the heat is in the still. it slightly uncomfortable to have my hand under here. and it's starting to move its way up. as the heat wave moves, it will move up the onion and out the line arm.
finally, when it gets to this knuckle joint, we have about five minutes until we have product coming out the back of the condenser. nice. this one is all the way up in the line arm already. way to go, mr. perky. we really limit ourselves and how we operate here. we still boil water at the boiler. we've still at hops when we are making the rye. we use wooden buckets. we stir with a wooden masher. we don't use thermometers or hydrometer's when we are making adjustments about adding the grain. we do it with visual and pace. we take it over a bucket at a time.
when we do the full scale production, we can understand why george washington had the staff he did. that's the staff level that it takes. once we start getting liquid out the back end, we monitor quality. the first that comes out is what we call head. it's inferior quality. that material we collect and get rid of. this is going to turn into a stream pretty quick. definitely headsy. >> tasting pretty nice though. >> yep.
>> there you go. >> ok. that will do. that way you cool the line arm a little bit more. this would have come from the mill and then gone down and found its way back into the creek. the mill pond was two miles from here. it's basically a hollow log. you can see valve set the end. jenny, do you want to point to a valve and maybe adjusted a -- adjust it a little bit? you can open and close the valve. it's the same kind as there are here on the condenser. it allows you to adjust how much water is coming out of the mill.
>> they did only 60-80 gallons of brandy on a couple of occasions. they did apple brandy and peach brandy. they sold some of it, but kept most as a record. the whiskey is a different proportion totally. this whole building was built as a commercial distillery for whiskey. he made 4500 gallons of whiskey one year. in 1799, almost 11,000 gallons.
>> we have lots and lots of plantation records and accounts of who was buying washington's whiskey. $.50 per gallon, by the way, up to one dollar per gallon for the good stuff that was distilled a few more times. the crew that really made this work would have been african-american slaves. there were six young black men assigned to the distillery. james anderson and his son john would have been directing it, but all the work would have been done by those six men, and it would have been a lot of work. carrying the grain around, doing the mashing, it was a labor intensive operation. >> normally in washington's time, it went right to market. in our case, what we do, when we make a whiskey run, we go ahead and bottle it not aged, to keep with the tradition here. now, october 22, for the first time, we are offering aged
whiskey. so, we will bottle half and barrel the other half, let it sit for two years, and then sell it. it's very nice, what you would expect in a modern town, amber, -- in a modern alcohol, amber color, really nice taste. we are looking forward to people trying that. >> one we started this, we had no idea we would be getting into the whiskey making business. there was lots of good whiskey being made in kentucky and elsewhere, but interest has been so great. from the very beginning, a lot of people are interested in what the whiskey washington made would have tasted like. in the last couple of years, we have done a number of demonstration projects and made enough whiskey that we can sell it to folks. it is available at a store near here and you can buy it.
>> we will be giving tours today as well, so there will be visitors coming through. that is not always the case. we want people to be safe, but today there is a special thing we are doing with the brandy. we have a going on while we are open. >> so, this is a commercial enterprise, but did washington himself like whiskey? >> well, whiskey was the most popular spirit in the country in the years following the revolution. before the revolution, it was rum. but after the revolution, rum became more expensive. and americans were growing lots and lots of grain.
it became a popular thing. this was a commercial venture though. there were a lot of people distilling, but washington's distillery, as we found out from our research, was one of the largest in the country. that doesn't mean it was washington's favorite spirit. it was popular among the masses, but washington was more of the tradition of madeira and wine. although we know from the records that he did drink whiskey, i don't think it would have been his first choice. 6% alcohol and all these guys. and i don't think we have gotten 6% on any of our fermentations yet. we try to hit a percent, but we have never really gotten there -- we tried to hit 8%, but we have never really gotten there yet. ok. >> it's coming out nicely now.
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