George Washington’s Whiskey: New at Reason

George Washington's 18th century distillery at Mount Vernon was, by all accounts, a tremendous success. Making his whiskey was hard work, but he didn't have much government to contend with, C. Jarrett Dieterle writes.

Entrepreneur that he was, Washington would be awed by the technological advancements in distilling capitalism has created—advances that, ultimately, have resulted in the wonderfully consistent and smooth whiskeys we enjoy today.

His awe would surely turn to disgust if someone tried to explain to Washington the modern-day nightmare that is the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Commission. For all of the hard work to produce liquor in his time, dealing with the government was easy.

Washington was never forced to sell his alcohol exclusively through government-run liquor stores. Or send all the revenue from his sales at Mount Vernon to ABC headquarters, and receive a paltry 46 percent in return. Or pay the nation's third-highest liquor tax.

Washington's customers would have been just as frustrated. ABC allows visitors at distilleries to sample no more than three ounces of spirits (served in half-ounce pours), even though they can drink as many IPAs as they want at the local brewery. Virginians often pay significantly more for a bottle of booze than consumers in neighboring states, with the state's high mark-ups and liquor taxes.

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