George Washington, King of American whiskey

Settling into retirement, the Founding Father lived off the profits of an entirely different Spirit of ’76.

After leaving the White House in March 1797, George Washington entered the booze business and presided over the construction of a new rye whiskey distillery on his home estate. By 1799, the drinks were flowing with Mount Vernon producing 11,000 gallons of whiskey over the course of the year, possibly making George Washington the owner of the largest distillery in the new nation.

A bottle of Washington’s Rye Whiskey from the Mount Vernon Distillery, which reopened in 2007.

Sold without aging, Washington’s whiskey was clear to the eye like modern moonshine, but the appearance deterred few customers in the 18th century. With clean drinking water hard to come by, hard liquor often took its place, becoming a daily staple for most citizens. In 1790, the average American drank almost six gallons of pure alcohol a year, and on the western frontier, whiskey become so ubiquitous, many used the spirit as an informal currency.

When Congress levied a tax on whiskey in 1791, the act ignited a long-brewing Pennsylvania insurgency, and after three years, the unrest reached a boiling point. Washington, still in office, took command of a national militia and personally quelled the uprising.

George Washington acting as literal Commander in Chief during the Whiskey Rebellion.

Though the tax that inspired the Whiskey Rebellion was repealed in 1802, the liquor taps at Washington’s distillery had already run dry. His lucrative enterprise closed shortly after his death in 1799. Today, a reconstructed distillery operates on the original site, but anyone hoping for a taste will have to travel to the gift shop at Mount Vernon.