R Street's Jarrett Dieterle recently attended the 10th anniversary celebration of George Washington's rebuilt Mt. Vernon distillery. He wrote the following piece for Reason about whiskey making during Washington's time and how it was harder in every way except dealing with the government:
George Washington's rebuilt distillery at Mount Vernon recently celebrated its 10th anniversary with a team of master distillers from around the country producing a commemorative rye whiskey using the old-fashioned methods of Washington's time.
When Mount Vernon farm manager James Anderson pitched the idea of opening a whiskey distillery to Washington in 1797, it was hardly a novel idea. Many early Americans distilled alcohol and whiskey surpassed rum as the young nation's spirit of choice after the Revolutionary War.
Despite a somewhat saturated market, Washington quickly distinguished himself in the whiskey business—his distillery would become one of the largest in the country, producing 11,000 gallons during its peak years.
Washington's success should not obscure the fact that making whiskey at the turn of the 18th century was hard. Everything about the whiskey-making process—from milling the grain, to stirring the mash, to firing the stills—was an order of magnitude more difficult than today's mechanized and streamlined process...
Entrepreneur that he was, Washington would be awed by the technological advancements in distilling capitalism has created—advances that, ultimately, have resulted in the wonderfully consistent and smooth whiskeys we enjoy today.
His awe would surely turn to disgust if someone tried to explain to Washington the modern-day nightmare that is the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Commission. For all of the hard work to produce liquor in his time, dealing with the government was easy...
Read the whole piece here (including a neat video on the distilling process at Mt. Vernon).