Podcast Episode: Interview: Steve Bashore of George Washington's Distillery (Upstairs)
We talk about recreating history and I get to sample some rye whiskey made with the tools and techniques of the 18th century.
Listen to the Episode
My conversation with Steve Bashore, Director of Historic Trades at George Washington's Distillery and Gristmill at Mount Vernon continues upstairs in the museum area. What a great opportunity to have a relaxing chat and enjoy some of the amazing rye whiskey Steve and his team produce at the distillery.
In this portion of the interview, we discuss:
- Wanting to know more of the James Anderson story in Scotland
- Why Anderson moved from Scotland
- Lowland and Highland challenges
- The impact of Alexandria
- Definitive Virginia spirit
- Finding the records of output
- Seeing in the ledger what her purchased
- The relationship between James Anderson and Washington
- Where did James Anderson learn his skills?*
- Sticking to traditions and making it better
- Getting used to unaged rye
- The amount of work that goes in
- Tasting the unaged rye and 2 year rye*
- Bowmore sea characteristic
- The GW Glencairn
And we talked even more and you can hear that second part of the interview, where Steve gives some tips on the best time to visit the distillery, by becoming a member of the Whiskey Lore Society, for as little as $5. Just head to patreon.com/whiskeylore and enjoy the benefits and extra content I provide to those awesome people that support this independent podcast.
Listen to the full episode with the player above or find it on your favorite podcast app under "Whiskey Lore." The full transcript is available on the tab above.
Welcome to Whiskey Lore I'm Drew Hannush. Well I hope you got a chance to enjoy part one and part two of my conversation with Steve Bashore downstairs within the distillery we talked about process and how they made whiskey back in the 18th century and a little bit about the grains that they're using at Mount Vernon and the all-star cast that came in to help them out in getting the distillery up and running and if you want to hear the other half of that and you didn't get a chance to listen to it you can get that at patreon.com Whiskey Lore as a Whiskey Lore Society member now for this episode we went upstairs and upstairs is kind of a museum set up and there were some tables there and we got a chance to sit at a distance from each other doing our social distancing but being on mic and having a chance to just sit back relax and there were some whiskeys sitting there and I'm going to get a chance to try some of those whiskeys we're going to try in this episode a unaged rye and a two-year-old rye whiskey that they made right there at the distillery using those 18th century techniques so listen for that we're going to talk a little bit more about James Anderson and hunting history and that's where we're going to pick up this conversation where Steve and I are just chatting a little bit about you know trying to find more information on this seemingly unknown historic figure so without further ado let's jump back into our conversation with Steve Bashore the director of historic trades at George Washington's distillery in gristmill at Mount Vernon.
STEVE: So I think Anderson's an interesting figure an intriguing figure and I'd like to know more about his life in Scotland you know I've learned a little bit more because the professor's writing a book that is about Washington and the farms but on a more macro level and he found some interesting things that I'm waiting to see what's in his book because he went to Scotland and did a little research
DREW: Okay so what we know of James Anderson is that during his time in Scotland he wasn't really distilling at that point he was more of a farmer who was supplying distilleries.
STEVE: Right that's what I understand and that's in his letter to Washington that he said I ran mills that fed distilleries and he married into a family you know his wife her father was quite a merchant and farmer so I think he you know he filled a role in that family in that sort of management but I think there's probably more there the records haven't been delved into I'd like to know what mills I'd like to know what distilleries around Inverkeithing I know where the Spencerfield house is you know been in that house that he left in 1791 and so there's got to be some records there to delve into and learn the front end of the story and I think two things may have caused the move initially I thought it was the high taxation of spirits which the British parliament was putting on Scottish spirits I think that's part of the story that they were being crushed by taxation and he saw well I've got to get out but recent research over there has also shown that he had possibly some bankruptcy issues or other business problems that you know he had to close out and thought it's because to move to America at the age of 47 with that many kids is a big move.
DREW: Seven children
STEVE: yeah it's a big move so I think it could have been I gotta find like a lot of people did I gotta find a new way in the new world maybe I can remake my fortune
DREW: Yeah well that time period from what I understand when that English law came into being it actually put a pause on production for Scottish distillers for a year to get the licensing I think something to that and so if you're thinking about you're feeding all of these this grain to an industry that's being told it has to shut down for a year
STEVE: No way to make profit no way to earn a living yeah
DREW: Bankruptcy would be a very very real possibility for just about anybody in that farming industry at that time
STEVE: oh definitely so I think that that high taxation which over the 1780s over there the multiplier effect year to year it was going up and then doubling and tripling it was really being crushed and it was not just as we talked about earlier just the distilleries but it impacted farms in a great way because where do you go with your produce why are you even growing it. There's no market for it and and that battle between we need bread but there's so much money to be made in spirits you know now that's closed down you're not going to make the money on bread even though people do need to eat so I think he was in a rock and a hard place and a lot of people were then back then so he I guess he took the option of I'll go to America and see what I can do to rebuild.
DREW: It's interesting to see the difference between the Lowlands and the Highlands because in the Highlands it was probably easier for them to get away with the illicit stills and it was easier for them to move in that direction versus the Lowlands you're you're more easily accessible to the tax man yeah and you are surrounded by legal distilleries so the idea of being able to even distill in-house you know could have been a a possibility in his mind but because of where he was located it probably would have been a lot harder for him to try to salvage his own grains that way.
STEVE: Well also in the Highlands at that time they're not exporting anything to England they're so remote so you're feeding a very very local market and even the distilleries that were in between the coastal areas and the Highlands they only have so much of a geographic reach because it traveled to markets and it so it's really those coastal ones like here with the Whiskey Rebellion a lot of the Hamilton tax was to try to concentrate manufacturing and let the larger ones in the cities could fend better under that law than the small distiller and so I think that's going on in Scotland too. And so the coastal ones had more political connections and they you know if you're up in the Highlands you're not going to get that out of that region and overseas and so they you know it's the big guy little guy battle once again.
DREW: It's just interesting to see how taxation has so caused the whiskey industry to shift and change and it where it's had its bursts of of success like 1823 with the excise tax change really opening up distilling because it created a much lower barrier to entry to get all of those illegal stills on the books if they could possibly do it.
STEVE: Well economics and taxes if you don't study that you don't understand why people are making the choices they are and it's always interesting that some people treat tax policy as a static neutral that human beings aren't going to act one way or the other based on tax rates they always do you know it's like the capital gains thing you know it's like well it's a huge tax I'll just hold on to that property and you know it's just it's because people are trying to take care of their money or their business and so I think they certainly in this country with the Whiskey Rebellion the way the tax was structured initially you had to pay it in cash if you were fined. You lived in Western PA whiskey was your cash so there's all sorts of elements of it that wrankled the small farmer the small distiller whereas a big person could could weather all that in Philadelphia or wherever they were and I think that some sort of parallel seems to have been happening in Scotland which you know led Anderson one of the reasons he left because he you know could not conduct business perhaps. So and the business was pretty solid here though I think he fell into a good market with Alexandria being so close and Alexandria Virginia being a port and all the activity there and we know Washington was also supplying two or three bake houses there with flour from his mill so it's an important city for him in in every way and so. And again we talked earlier about why rye well that's what the market wanted yeah you know so you definitely rye grain rye whiskey was it
Well and it was a lot easier to grow especially as you were going north into Pennsylvania and into the New England states because it can hold to the the colder climate
STEVE: it's hardy
DREW: Yeah yeah whereas here rye was originally probably used more for cover and for changing crops is that
STEVE: Yeah I think so I do as I mentioned I do think that there's some evidence of people grinding rye but I don't know at what date you know a lot of the Virginia history I've been searching through to see if there was a definitive gen Virginia spirit like you know Pennsylvania and rye or Maryland and rye you know that's it they're known for that northern Virginia I think was probably known for it what happened in Richmond central Virginia I'm still trying to figure out because there's a lot of corn liquor yeah and I have a feeling there was more corn liquor than rye maybe but there's no way to know I'd have I haven't found that treasure trove of sort of production records or anything about you know plantations at that area that have shown me more than a cursory bit of information.
DREW: Let's just say the earliest record that I've seen of course is George Thorpe in Jamestown and he made corn whiskey because that was the grain he had available
STEVE: Well there's a lot of that isn't it you know I mean what do they have you know like mash bills today are definitive and people are looking for the grains specifically back then what excess grain did you have what was going to spoil that's what you're going to distill yeah and then you have berkeley plantation and the supposed first bourbon that whole story you know I don't think they called it bourbon but that's another area where you know central Virginia was making corn whiskey. But I think my theory is there's just a lot of records that haven't been found yet because not everything is digitized everybody thinks everything is available through the computer you've got to visit some of these libraries and or the library of Virginia Virginia Historical Society and been down there a few times over the years mainly looking at flour and things of that nature in certain plantations but if you can get the plantation records for some of these major families in Virginia I think it'll lead a trail hopefully to something about you know not only their farming operation but their connection to distilleries and I just think it has yet to be fully discovered.
DREW: So one of the interesting things that I think is going to end up being discovered through records is there was a mention early on here that this might have been one of the largest if not the largest distilling operation at it that particular time. But what's interesting in my study on the Whiskey Rebellion is that the way the records were being kept or the records that they were able to actually get were coming from the larger distillers that were the ones that wanted to do it legitimately and who weren't worried about paying the tax because they could figure out how to lower their cost by doing more production and and
STEVE: Lower their effective cost per gallon
DREW: Yeah and so it seems like if we went back through the old tax records that you would be able to figure out who some of the distillers were and how much they were producing every year in Pennsylvania in Kentucky where there may have been you know distillers who were getting their records legitimately back to the collectors you know but yet nobody really has that information at the moment so you just think it's buried somewhere and and we just have to figure out where it's at
STEVE: Yeah and I think it's going to be several places because I think it's not all collated and you have to kind of dig into regional libraries regional records regional you know if there's you know like the Library of Virginia is very good and you can find like you know like the Carter family papers are extensive but I also think there's some of it we'll never know because on the frontier people did all sorts of stuff didn't write everything down or did they write so there's some of these mid-level small distillers or farm distillers they're filling a need in the local market we'll never know that but hopefully the bigger ones will give us a better general picture of output. And I've seen early 19th century documents on a macro level from you know the senate and some of Hamilton's records which in the 1790s they did aggregate a lot of production for the states and they're trying to get a handle on what sort of revenue is going to be drawn off these taxes so I've seen some of those documents so I'd like to know the raw material that they created their government report from. You know where is that coming from absolutely yeah because in there then you maybe get down to the you know deeper level of state records regional parts of each state so so that obviously they were there because they're aggregating that information.
DREW: And it seems like Western Pennsylvania well the one of the players in the whole excise issue there General John Neville was a distiller himself and he was a larger distiller and that was part of the reason why people were frustrated with him so he he's kind of there were some records he was putting out somewhere and again just trying to figure out where those would have been collected because Western Pennsylvania was one of the larger production areas for whiskey at that time in our history from what he understand.
STEVE: Oh yeah yeah so yeah so it's like a detective work as you always do as you do research you know bits and pieces come together and you're looking for hopefully that trove of some deeper information or you know ledgers from one particular business I've seen them for the later you know 1830s and 40s when seeing a few of those ledgers of distilleries it's interesting to look at because sometimes you even see mash bills there and that's fun to find
DREW: That's what was what I was kind of peaking for when I was looking through the ledgers was to see what was being purchased for Mount Vernon at that time and for the distillery because not all the grain came from Washington's farm
STEVE: Yeah it was just such a big operation he couldn't supply it all I think that's one of the things that he if I can read between the lines and the letters that he was a little irritated at James Anderson about because I think Anderson wanted to do it he probably said well look you have this huge farm you can grow all the grain. Well this place outstripped the need pretty quickly because it was just making 11 000 gallons he had to buy corn from a relative from another property each year he had to buy rye on occasion sometimes they're trading whiskey for barrels the coopers can't keep up with the barrel needs. Sometimes they're trading whiskey for grain and Washington like things on the farms to like these internal transactions to break even and he didn't want to have to go outside but no estate like this it's a misnomer to think they were all self-sufficient they're not there's a lot of consumer goods that are needed outside goods outside work so sometimes there's a thought that oh well you have a big property and you can make everything on your own well they're part of a broader economy and they're you know so yes he's doing as much as he can but he also has to buy a lot of other things to keep the place running and but with the distillery I have a feeling that Anderson pitched it as an idea that could be fairly self-sufficient because you have this big farm, and that's what there's that one letter you got to watch language in the 18th century because you don't want to put too much modern connotation on certain words but he does say to a friend that I've been induced by my farm manager (Drew laugh) to get into the whiskey business yeah yeah which makes me think later when he decides that he wants to downsize and I think that's because he's 67 years old yeah he tries to get Anderson to lease it because it certainly was a big profit center but I think Washington's just getting older and it is the span of his life since you know his early 40s in the revolution he's been running pretty hard and I think he you know imagine all he's been through at 67 he probably wants to step back a little bit rom all that management and I could understand that knowing all that he had to handle but I wonder if he just thought okay it's a good business that's making money but it's a lot of work to to keep this running so maybe Anderson will do it.
DREW: Yeah so that's the other interesting piece that I'm trying to get a handle on we may never know because we didn't really nobody was there to look at their relationship and report on it but in some ways it seemed like a very friendly relationship and at other times it could be a frustrating relationship and I'm I'm thinking the frustration comes from the fact that here's George Washington who has learned how to run military he's learned how to run a government and now he's come home to his farm and circumstances are going to be different and here's a farm manager who is probably getting micromanaged a little bit more than he probably expected at that point because Washington was so meticulous on everything that he did so in picking up from the the reading that you've done have you have you kind of caught a a feel for what that relationship was like?
STEVE: Yeah I think it was one of certain respect between I think Washington respected Anderson but I also think that he like he did with everybody he critiqued their job performance and Anderson was very skilled at a lot but Washington writes him and says that you get moving on project A in mid-stream you jump into project B and it loses efficient use of of time and manpower throughout the estate so you'll send a cart into Alexandria but it's not fully loaded and it does some transaction and then it comes takes all day to get back the team is tired and then it's an inefficient use of time and so at some point Washington takes away a couple of the farms from Anderson and since there's five farms and he says I want you to focus on these two yeah and Washington takes more of a hand of the the others for a while and then Anderson also I think really respected Washington but probably wasn't used to maybe being corrected even though Washington was always correcting in a manner to improve the farm so one time Washington asked him some questions and Anderson gets a little hot under the collar about it in Washington's next letter he says you're asking me not to comment on that which I own.
DREW: (Laugh) interesting
STEVE: And so Anderson then replies you know I can't remember the exact words but he realizes he's kind of gotten off course there a little bit and they have a you know he says you know of course you know yeah and so so I think but from what I read it I think he really respected him and he knew that he worked hard and Washington respected that that he worked so hard and was trying to do the right thing but I think maybe the property was so big and Washington was used to running it and Anderson had some difficulties and and maybe you know taking it all in as Washington could but Washington was a special in that way that I don't know if any of us could have pleased the work ethic level that he had or you know I think some did because he had some you know quality people around him but I think Anderson did the best he could and he's an immigrant to a new country and he's trying to figure out the you know the labor force which was enslaved which he wasn't used to and there's there's certain issues there and how to manage the enslaved workforce which was you know I think Anderson wasn't used to that and there's some in the letters or some discussion of that as well and you know and and he had some skilled people here you know the six young enslaved men here were skilled distillers you know it wouldn't have all happened without those guys working the way they did yeah so you did had you know John Anderson as the manager but to move that much grain and row that much mash and run those stills like that so this is a pretty well oiled team here I think.
DREW: So he probably would have gotten some of that experience with an enslaved group of men at the distillery that he either built or was Fredericksburg in Fredericksburg prior to joining at Mount Vernon
STEVE: yep I think so
DREW: And so that's an interesting part of history too that I think sometimes gets lost in that sometimes those skills may have been coming from the enslaved men rather than necessarily James Anderson because the question would be when James Anderson first got started on that first farm and is doing distilling how much did he know about distilling just by selling grain to distillers versus how much did he pick up once he got here and he was working on a farm where maybe there was distilling going on at that farm before he was there or because he there were enslaved people that knew this process
STEVE: Very well could have been it's part of the story we don't know because again like the Scottish part of his life I don't know how deep he was into the distillery he may have had some hands-on experience or been around it enough to understand we just don't know. And then coming over here I don't know enough about that early property you know I know it wasn't as large as Mount Vernon because it couldn't supply all the grain but there was so much distilling in Early America and so many Scots over here and Irish and others who had experience in it and even dutch people you know in fact in 1770s Washington's away at the war and his cousin Lund Washington is the manager here and there's in the ledger we have Lund paid a certain fee for six days to the Dutchman to teach me the art of distillation.So like any farm the early stills purchased in 1759 6061 the smaller stills they're making brandy here for sure off the cider no doubt and in 1770 you know they're trying to do something here this doesn't exist yet the distillery but it's a big farm and Lund Washington basically took distilling classes
DREW: Yeah it's interesting because the the Dutch would make genever which was a forerunner to gin and so I wonder if they may have even been toying with something like that if they were learning from the Dutch.
STEVE: Maybe so it's hard to know because there's not any more detail than that one entry yeah the name of the man's not even in there to a Dutchman it just says yeah so I'd like to know you know if you can find out who that person was you know but that's part of the study of history you're piecing together slivers of information sometime to get a picture
DREW: And there's a lot of guesswork
STEVE: Yeah there is and so you just keep decoration yeah you just keep ticking so hopefully there's some more Anderson records to come you know both pre coming to America and this last year's in Virginia yeah I'd like to know more about you know that aspect of his life and I think there's probably more we can find out about this place as well because I think there's you know we know big chunks of it but like anything you know there's missing pieces about certain aspects of the operation here you know the like I mentioned you know were they malting rye I think they probably were. You know I want to know more about the malt house that was built here I'd like to see us reconstruct that so that's what's fun is we have a great great trove of information but it leads you down other avenues of exploration.
DREW: So when you're putting all of this together and you're trying to stay as as close to the tradition as possible but you're in the modern world where do you have to make the decision that okay we we're probably not going to do it that way.
STEVE: Well over the last several years it's all driven by quality you know one of my jokes of the early years running this was we were just happy there was distillate coming out the back of the still (Drew laughs) and then over time you realize well we can make it much better we should make it much better and because it's Mount Vernon and the story here we want to make as quality spirits as we can to reflect you know the work we do here so that's really when we make decisions about well do we add this in do we filter this way or should we you know change some of the grain it's all about let's make a better tasting rye whiskey because we are in a modern market even though we're a historic distillery we you know have a retail shop here that's part of the Virginia ABC system and we have people coming and buying our spirits and they aren't low-priced bottles because of the way they're made and so I want somebody to go home and be happy with it and maybe buy another bottle even though they're high priced you know people will buy the first bottle will they come back right? Or does it become a souvenir? In the early years sometimes I think it was a novelty in the first you know because we hadn't had whiskey out of Mount Vernon you know in 200 years so people were buying a story part of the history but now all the bottles that we put out I'm very proud of and I want people to consume them and enjoy them and and then tell people it's a good whiskey and you know and so that's where the decision comes is how do we improve it.
DREW: Yeah well the other thing too is that for people who are uninitiated to the history of whiskey and knowing that they weren't aging in barrels at that time you're also having to learn how to consume this whiskey in a different mindset then you would be consuming a modern rye whiskey that's been aged for two to four to six to eight years
STEVE: Yeah and so you know we'll always make unaged rye even you know just be true to that original product but what I can say in the last three or four years it's a quality clean distillate you know you know the early bottles were rougher as we learned so I always tell people if you've bought a bottle from 2013 or 2011 please buy one of the 2019 2020 unaged whiskeys because it's it's a different animal completely it's much better and therefore what we're laying down in barrels will be much better you know because what goes in needs to be good for it to come out of that barrel as quality as it can be so I think we're on the right track you know through the help of you know great consultants as I mentioned you know over the years that you know people that have helped us learn and help us perfect processes and and for all the labor we do you want it to taste good you know because it it's like anything you put in that much labor and you're not happy with it that's a sad dayyou know as you kill yourself for on mash or you know all the milling that goes on you know because this mill over here twenty thousand twenty two thousand pounds of grain a year is just for whiskey in a historic mill you know most mills don't even grind that much in a year. And then we have all the other grinding we do on top of it for the food grade products we do and demonstrations we do so you know it's a lot of effort but you know I think we're in a good spot right now with our products so I think the future is going to be even better because there's just better stuff coming out and we've got some things in the hopper hard the pun the different grains we're going to do and so I look forward to the next four or five years to see what we can produce.
DREW: So you have a fun one sitting there we have a couple of things to to taste and I'm I keep eyeballing that George Washington's Single Malt Whiskey he he never would have tasted a single malt whiskey.
STEVE: Most likely most likely not yeah probably you know rare that if he had exposed he might have in his class that he ran and he might have you know as president had a sip of some of that if someone had it but this was a special project that we did in 2012 and to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Scotch Whiskey Association and working with distilled spirits council and three Scottish distillers and Dave Pickerell our consultant we created this single malt and it was mainly for fundraising for different charities and for Mount Vernon so there's only 30 bottles of the Distiller’s Reserve that were made and 30 of the limited edition wow and they were aged in you know American oak that had been in Scotland they coopered them down and sent them back over okay because they were small barrels we didn't have a lot of volume and then finished in Madeira cask for four months oh wow so it's only three years old total to be qualified as you know single malt but it came out really really good and it was one of those projects that was very very much fun.
DREW: Yeah so the barrel started as a American bourbon barrel went over was used for scotch
STEVE: I don't know if it had been used or if it was at the cooperage at Speyside and Bill Lumsden at Glenmorangie grabbed it grabbed it and said I need it down to the size they coopered it down and shipped it back to Mount Vernon to put our our single malt in.
DREW: Okay so was it the 53 gallon or was it a smaller
STEVE: Oh it got cooper down to about you know 20 liter oh okay yeah because we only had so much juice yeah yeah and so after we knew what we had we he shipped over the size we needed and then in the same thing with the Madeira cask was you know broken down and recoopered down to a small and then it was all hand bottled and hand filtered Dave and I did that one night here and hand labeled hand numbered and raised quite a bit of money for different charities and for this this Estate which is you know helps our mission our education mission our preservation mission I hope we can do it again one day I hope we can you know make a little bit more of it. You know and it was also a Scottish malt was shipped over
DREW: Okay was it peated malt
STEVE: A little bit was it yeah so you'll get a little smoke in this
DREW: Where did it come from?
STEVE: I don’t know where Bill sourced it I don't know I think that's
DREW: probably Black Isles I know that's popular
STEVE: I saved one of the bags yeah yeah and so but that came over about two thousand pounds and we milled all that and we spread the peated ones across all four fermentations so you know we didn't want to have it overpowering anyone yeah and and that was with Bill Lumsden again Andy Camp who was at Cardu for many years he's retired now and then John Campbell Laphroaig was with us on that so that was a great great experience that was march 2012 and then we had an event in October 2015 where the whiskey was you know at that event and they came back over it was a great time stayed up too late with them (laugh)
DREW: That's a that's an experience that I mean did you see yourself when you started out in the milling industry getting this tied in with distillers?
STEVE: no no I was a a lone miller a one-man operation at another museum running a water mill and you know and I could never foresee that you know coming to Mount Vernon and then secondly getting to do all these different projects so I've been very fortunate and you know each year you kind of have to look back and go wow we did do that that did happen yeah and
DREW: Well the people that you got to interact with you mentioned the original team that was in here was Jimmy Russell was here and you had people from Woodford Reserve were here
STEVE: yeah Chris Morris yeah and Ron Call and Mike Sherman of Vendome who helped you know build who built the stills here and
DREW: Did he build those on site?
STEVE: yeah well they were built in Kentucky for the restoration yeah and Dave Pickerell you know it was and at that time you know I you're kind of star struck in the first year you know they're all here working and you just quiet and learning don't offer up any opinions yeah and then over the years there's been others that have come through as I mentioned you know Fred Noe of Jim Beam and you know John Campbell's been back and helped us a couple times Lisa Wicker from Widow Jane our consultant has been fantastic to work with and Ted Huber you know in particular with the brandy runs the Starlight Distillery Ted is on the phone with him last week about barrels so he's just always been very kind and tons of knowledge and so that's what's nice you can pick up the phone and call if we do have a problem or a question and they're happy to help our program.
STEVE: I'll look forward to more of those hopefully but that's the unaged raw you have right there okay
DREW: So you called it white dog when you first passed it over to me so is that it it basically is what it is what you're bottling as the the rye whiskey is a white dog or do you do anything to it
STEVE: No it's just it's a rye it's not people sometimes say oh it's moonshine well it's not moonshine you know it's a rye whiskey it's just never hit a barrel yeah it's you know so it's it's as they would have sold it in the 18th century and where they didn't age so but it's a quality spirit we're really happy with it. Now I can say you know prior to you know 2016 that you know we changed up our fermentation protocols and you know we moved in a better direction with that end of the work you know the early batches were a little rough so I'd always warn people you know now I can always say please try it
DREW: This isn't rough at all so this is what would you was the proof on this
DREW: 86 okay yeah because it's it's interesting I'm trying to think how much I'm missing out on the barrel on this I mean I could easily see drinking this just as is yeah some people would say okay well you know you're going to use a white dog rye you're probably going to use it as a mixer for something but no it's it's very pleasant it's got some interesting flavors going on there. I didn't pick up the smoke because you mentioned that some people will say smoke but I'm also in a room right above where fires are going on and I learned I was at Bowmore and I was listening to somebody else who was tasting the the whiskey there and said you know it usually has this sea characteristic but I'm not really pulling it out of it right now and then it dawned on them, oh I'm by the sea so the sea is actually over in you know it's almost cancelling out that note that I normally would pick out of it so I yeah I bet you if I was sitting at home with this I would probably pick up a little bit more of that fire smoke.
STEVE: It varies to batch to batch you know but because we're collecting it off the back of wood-fired stills and it ends up in a container in the main room initially you're going to have some of that but it varies batch to batch.
DREW: It's a little herbally and it has but there's a sweetness to it
STEVE: Yeah that's your high corn component in there yeah it's about 30 some percent corn so that's why I think on the back end you get that smoother finish from the corn yeah the rice kind of up front the pepper and allspice up front.
DREW: Yeah but it's a it's it's a little bit more subtle probably than you would expect sometimes that pepper really overtakes the whole experience
STEVE: Yeah I think it's a balanced distillation that's why it just comes through that way so yeah again happy with the last you know three or four years of the rye especially so it's just good to be improving you know through you know good guidance from from Lisa on the fermentation side particularly.
DREW: I love seeing the the George Washington initials on a Glencairn it's like a marrying together of my favorite part of history with the the whiskey side of things
STEVE: Yeah we have to thank Marty Duffy who you know is the rep for Glencairn and you know we talked to him when we got those glasses done for a whiskey event so I bought some extra because I knew I'd need him out here for tastings and such
STEVE: That's very nice and so that's a two-year-old so that's been in a 25 gallon barrel for a little over two years and you're gonna get some caramel vanilla notes coming through on that different totally different than what you just had.
DREW: Yeah but you still can pull I mean there's still enough of that that that rye sweetness in there the the sweetness probably coming from the corn but and there's a there's a yeasty kind of smell in there that blood so what do you what do you use for yeast.
STEVE: We buy from a modern company yeah yeah okay yeah so there are things we do because in our environment too we needed something hearty that was going to work well and so we we worked with Firm Solutions as you said whiskey yeast that we get
DREW: Okay as you said Washington was actually getting his yeast from a brewery beer makers
STEVE: yeah in Alexandria yeah and those are noted in the ledger you can see when he picked up that yeast
DREW: Wow big time difference you do really taste the barrel in that a lot more and you use the number three jar yeah so the idea with the number three char which is on the a little bit lighter I know four seems to be
STEVE: Four is the dark or four is the heaviest yeah and so if you peel it apart those staves would look like alligator skin and a four but three is fairly standard but you know we're still learning a lot about cooperage you know that's another thing we're going to kind of play around with in the coming years but that you know something Dave recommended Dave Pickerel when we first started aging and you know he he knew quite a lot about you know what was good and we went with 25 gallon barrels just because we don't have a lot of storage space here. Nowadays we're moving into 53s more more and more and then with the small barrel you just have to you know watch the time in the barrel just because the oak will you know get overcome it at times.
That's really interesting because on the the finish is really clean and it's very long lasting and it's this pleasant sweetness and I can't put my it's it's one of those where I'm at to sit with it and then it's going to dawn on me what that flavor is because it's a very familiar flavor to me but it just.
STEVE: It's always hunting the adjectives for what yeah exactly exactly well put
DREW: So that is going to be the end of our first half of this episode there is a second half and again if you are a member of the Whiskey Lore Society all you have to do is head to patreon.com/whiskeylore and if you are not a member for as little as five dollars a month you can be a member and you can help support this independent podcast so let me give you a little sample of what you'll hear in the second half of the episode you know it can't be perfect because nothing is you know and I used to work at another historic plantation in Virginia and one day someone said about some issue we had well that's not historically accurate and I said do you want me to bring out the hundred foot long scroll of all the things that are historically active because you can never recreate it perfectly but what you try to do is be as authentic as possible your content should be well researched and as authentic and and proper as possible based on you know hopefully the records you have so you tell a true story as true as you can yeah and you always update it you always revisit it that's what we're doing with some of our interpretive stuff now you revisit it you look at it what have we learned what is the library produced it's told us a different story that's always happening it's an organic thing growing and then as far as living history which I do is you know you want to try to be as authentic as possible so people come back and and they visit and they think well that's you know that's probably how that mill was back then right and that's what we do here in the distillery they come through here and they learn wow that's pretty interesting that the distillery was laid out like that and that's how they did the fermentation and because you know it's like the game of telephone you know if you remember that game you go in a circle and tell something it comes back around and it's completely different and you're like that's why we always listen to our interpretive staff and go because someone will hear something and go I'll enter that into my tour and we have you know it's like well that's interesting but what's that based on yeah yeah you know so there's always that process at any site or any historic site where hopefully you're doing that and Williamsburg is a good example of doing many of the trades the right way I mean I think they're they're kind of a watermark for excellence on historic trades well I hope you enjoyed this conversation with Steve Bashore and I thank Steve for taking the time to talk with me about so many different aspects of the distillery and letting me taste some fantastic whiskies if you go to patreon.com Whiskey Lore the second half of this episode I will be tasting a single malt that they created there we'll talk much more about history and how it's recreated. Whiskey Lore is a production of Travel Fuels Life LLC for show notes head out to whiskey-lore.com episodes and until next time cheers and slanjova and for more information on the George Washington distillery and gristmill at Mount Vernon head to mountvernon.org