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Distilling Rosen Rye at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Distillery

This was a crisp fall Sunday morning. You could barely see the fog of your breath after sipping the hotel cup of coffee. A few of the collaborators had mustered for breakfast. Grabbing bagels, pieces of fruit and whatever else would travel quick and light. Fueling up for the long days journey that lie ahead. Some had barely gotten more than 4 hours sleep from the previous days activities. The sun began illuminating the golden leaves that still clung to their branches. There was an electricity that filled the atmosphere. Anticipation consumed the one mile trek up the winding hill to where the old mill and the distillery stand. It was difficult to adhere to the posted speed limit. Speedily pulling into the parking lot. Hurrying to get out of the car. Gear in hand. We have been here before. But, this time the beast began to come to life.

The walk was familiar. The same familiar pathway. Familiar faces greeted us as we entered the dimly lit distillery. George Washington’s Mount Vernon Distillery still runs on natural light. Sunlight beamed through every window to reveal the magic that was taking place. Sounds of buckets being filled. Wood being stacked neatly next to the stills. Five in all. Named after queens. There was a hive of well orchestrated activity. Mash tons being emptied into buckets. Stills being filled being filled with fermented Keystone Rosen Rye and heirloom corn. Fires being lit. Steam rising from the tubs. Fresh water being diverted from the mill to be used to cool the hot distillate. More wood being carted in. An empty mash tun being turned onto its side and rolled out the door to be cleaned and prepared for the next ferment. The crackle of the fire and the smoke from the wood was a distinct education of how whiskey was made back in the 1700’s. Everyone there was playing a role and focused intently on making history and history come alive.

Steve Bashore drove a big box truck up to Imler, PA. Robert and Sherri McDonald of Dancing Star Farm had 11,000 pounds of grain waiting to be picked up and milled for distilling. The catalyst for this historic event took place between a conversation with Steve and Laura Fields of The Delaware Valley Fields Foundation. Laura loves whiskey, history and promoting heirloom grains and the farmers that grow them. She asked if GWMV would want to run Rosen Rye. Of course Steve was more than happy to make that happen.

Steve got to work planning, organizing and assembling an all-star team to put it all together, people of like mind who love history and distilling. They all came together to create whiskey and retell the story and produce a new one. The sense of camaraderie came through. Of course, having a game plan was helpful. Everyone worked together with a sense of pride. Thomas and Kim Bard came all of the way from Graham, KY, leaving The Bard Distillery for a few days to assist in distilling. Erik and Jim Wolfe, who are no strangers to Rosen, brought their experience and expertise. Stoll and Wolfe Distillery distilled Rosen just 2 years earlier. Lisa Roper Wicker, of Widow Jane, focused on the process as the stills began to offer their sweet and fruity distillate. Lisa has been a familiar face at GWMV since the very beginning. Aleasha Monroe is the head distiller at West Overton. They just released a Monongahela Style Rye and she brought her knowledge and skill. The Mount Vernon team brought it all together.

The Rosen is being distilled with Orange Creole and Bloody Butcher Corn. Time will tell if the juice will be bottled separately or together. It will rest in barrels from Kelvin Cooperage, Speyside Cooperage in Virgina, and a very special barrel made from a 240 year oak tree that fell at Mount Vernon 3 years ago. There is great anticipation for some bottles of the white spirit to be offered. This will provide a prelude of things to come. Whiskey and history lovers alike have so much to look forward to. George Washington’s Mount Vernon Distillery is moving into the future while retaining the roots of the past.

Listen to our interviews as we reflect on this historic event.

Part 1:

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Part 2:

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