James Anderson finally is getting his due. In 1796, George Washington hired the Scotsman as a plantation manager. Anderson quickly convinced the outgoing president to build a distillery. By 1798, the five still facility was gurgling forth 10,000 gallons of whiskey and other distilled spirits, which sold like crazy.
This week, distillers from Scotland’s Glenmorangie, Cardhu, and Laphroaig came to Mount Vernon to make a single malt whiskey. It has not been easy. The Scots are making whiskey (or whisky, as they prefer it) using the same type of equipment used in Anderson’s day. In the gristmill, a 16-foot waterwheel powers the mill that grinds the grains and separates to distillable from the castoff. It makes a fantastic racket.
The grain is lugged over to the distillery, where it is prepared for distillation through boiling and then is bucketed into huge barrels and agitated with six-foot tall wooden paddles. A smoke haze hangs in the air as the stills are fired with wood chopped outside. It is all a far cry from the highly automated distilleries of today.
Yet, Anderson would have been greatly honored with the Scots’ efforts. A 165 proof water clear spirit came off the still that was smooth and sweet. The whiskey will be aged for three years, and then auctioned to benefit charitable causes.
Kevin R. Kosar is editor of AlcoholReviews.com and the author of Whiskey: A Global History.