Shortly after departing the presidency in March 1797, George Washington set out on an entirely new endeavor. The founding father was encouraged by his farm manager James Anderson to use the vast expanse of the Washington family estate, Mount Vernon, to open a whiskey distillery. Anderson believed that the estate’s extant gristmill and plentiful water supply would make for a thriving operation. Sure enough, the prediction came true, and the distillery blossomed into a highly profitable business venture for Washington.
In October 1797, construction began on a stone house large enough to contain five whiskey stills, and 50 mash tubs were added over the next two years. By 1799, the distillery was producing nearly 11,000 gallons of alcohol annually, valued at $7,500 (roughly $185,000 today). Other Virginia-based distilleries, by comparison, produced an average of around 650 gallons each year. The Mount Vernon distillery was known for its cinnamon whiskies as well as apple and peach brandies, and rather than bottle, brand, or age its whiskey, the distillery quickly delivered its product to local merchants in 30-gallon wooden barrels, which meant a rapid influx of cash. Washington died on December 14, 1799, just as the business reached its apex. The former President’s nephew Lawrence Lewis inherited the operation and ran it until around 1808; six years later, the original distillery burned down in a fire.