"Homegrown Spirits" at Homewood Museum Review

Nick Roy

While studying the history of George Washington in school, the discussion often focuses on his crossing of the Delaware, the challenges he faced as the nation's first president, and his life at Mount Vernon. What many people fail to realize is that George Washington, as well as the other Founding Fathers, was often involved with the distillation of whiskey, rum, and vodka. George Washington himself had a distillery located in Mount Vernon and was one of the 15,000 distillers located in America during this time period.

 

On Friday June 10th, I had the privilege of attending the 15th annual "Homegrown Spirits" at the Homewood Museum. When we arrived the clouds were beginning to roll in, but everyone was committed to the event and learning more about the impact distilleries had on early America. There were six vendors at the event, all of whom were chosen due to being smaller distilleries that follow the spirit of distilleries in colonial times. When speaking with the owner of each distillery it became clear what set them apart from many of the larger and more popular distilleries. It became apparent when speaking with Jonathan Cook, the Chief Operations Officer of Sloop Betty vodka. He informed me that their distillery was the first in the state of Maryland in at least 35 years. He was genuinely excited about not only being a part of history, but reflecting on the past to offer a superior product.

 

After having a chance to sample each of the six spirits and look over the items that were available in the silent auction, we grabbed our seats and listened to Dr. Dennis Pouge, the chief historian at Mount Vernon, where they have recently begun re-creating many of Washington's original spirit recipes from over 200 years ago. Not only did George Washington take pride in his whiskey distillery, he had one of the largest ones in the country at the time. He was able to distill over 11,000 gallons of whiskey a year, as well as apple and peach brandy. As Dr. Pouge phrased it, George Washington was “first in war, first in peace, first in having the largest distillery in the country.”

 

After speaking about George Washington and his distillery, Dr. Pouge then began speaking about distillation processes of that time period. One of the more interesting samples available was a white whiskey which I soon learned is the result of not aging the batch for a period of time. It wasn't that people did not know about aging techniques, they often simply ignored the aging process. Many times the people in charge of the distilling were farmers who were looking to turn their extra crops into something that they could easily sell and make a decent profit from.

 

As his talk was coming to an end, the rain started with a slow drizzle and everything was moved inside. Guests were still able to sample the spirits and enjoy the food that was provided. Being forced inside gave us a chance to look around the incredible historic Homewood building.

 

View additional photos of the event here


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