Founding spirit: The making of Washington’s whiskey at Mount Vernon

David Kerley, Olivier Knox, Richard Coolidge and Jordyn Phelps
Power Players

Top Line

Have you heard that George Washington’s spirit can be found at his historic Mount Vernon estate? His whiskey spirit, that is.

In the late 18th century, Washington established what was then the nation’s largest whiskey distillery, and now, after a nearly 200-year hiatus, the distillery has been rebuilt and is once again making whiskey just as the nation’s founding father once did.

“I believe that this is a fair representation of what the colonialists would have had,” Master Distiller Dave Pickerell told “Top Line” during a visit to the Mount Vernon Distillery.

The recipe that Pickerell follows today was derived by researchers who studied Washington’s records of the supplies ordered for the historic distillery site.

“It was gained by adding up all of the grain usage and then ‘ratio-ing’ it out,” Pickerell said of the recipe. “And it turned out that that ratio matched very nicely with what we know with the good Maryland rye recipe for its time.”

Pickerell said he’s confident that the whiskey being distilled at Mount Vernon distillery tastes very similar to the original product that Washington once enjoyed.

“The proof is in the pudding and it is a very tasty spirit,” Pickerell said. “Contrary to what people might think, you know, they think colonialists might have had rough edge spirit, but this is a rather refined spirit, even for being un-aged.”

He went on to explain that most of the key ingredients that go into making the whiskey haven’t changed from the late 18th century.

“The water isn't going to vary dramatically over time,” he said. “The hops aren't going to vary dramatically, the rye interestingly won't, because there hasn't been much of an interest in hybridizing rye, and so the rye isn't going to be too far off from what the colonialists had.”

The one ingredient that has changed over time, Pickerell said, is corn. But he said that whiskey gets most of its flavoring from the rye, and the corn is primarily a sweetener.

To learn more about the making of Washington’s whiskey, including how you can get a bottle for yourself, check out this episode of “Top Line.”

ABC News’ Kyle Blaine, Tom Thornton, Brian Haefeli and David Girard contributed to this episode.