Distilling the Past at Mt. Vernon

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Matthew Pembleton, a lecturer at American University and a history consultant at the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. He and I traveled to Mt. Vernon in September of this year to see how the plantation and living museum is recreating Washington’s drug-related history. A second post from our visit, about the farm’s cultivation of hemp, will run in January. Text by Pembleton, photos by me. Enjoy!

The turn of the seasons brings many changes to George Washington’s former estate at Mt. Vernon. Visitation winds down, the grounds crew prepares for winter and for the spring planting, and then the crowds return.  But one change stands out: late autumn and early spring is whiskey-making time.

On a drizzly fall morning, intrepid Points editors Emily Dufton and Matthew Pembleton ventured to George Washington’s former estate at Mt. Vernon to learn about the site’s first hemp crop in 200 years and the former plantation’s historic whiskey distillery.  Both products were important to the operations of Mt. Vernon at different points in Washington’s life and each reveals a new side of the nation’s first president—a savvy businessman and entrepreneur with an eye toward innovation, rather than a figure from American legend.  

And not surprise to readers of Points, both whiskey and hemp continue to draw visitors and the curious today.

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