By David Duncan
Our Founding Father and First President George Washington was the largest distiller of whiskey in the United States. As part of his whiskey distillery operations, Washington produced small amounts of Peach Brandy in 1798 and 1799. A small portion of this special batch would be sold at the market but most of the Peach Brandy would be set aside to be used at Mount Vernon. The peaches used in making the brandy would be harvested from orchards on the Mount Vernon estate.
At Mount Vernon, the Distillery from Washington’s time period has been reconstructed and mainly rye whiskey is made there. On a tour, visitors can learn all about the stages of whiskey production and periodically the whiskey and brandy produced as part of the demonstration process is put on sale. The Peach Brandy was produced using traditional 18th century methods. The brandy was double-distilled in copper pot stills heated by wood fires. Overall, making the brandy is as close to what would have been George Washington’s original recipe as possible.
The Peach Brandy sold today has been aged for eighteen months in used bourbon barrels at Mount Vernon. It is produced using Mount Vernon staff and craft distiller consultants using traditional methods. Sadly, Washington’s exact recipe and instructions for distilling Peach Brandy are not known. However, the distillation of fruit brandy is pretty basic and has not changed much over the centuries. So, the Peach Brandy made today is as close to what Washington would have produced as possible.
In order to give the brandy its peach flavor, the peaches had to be prepared, crushed or pressed. Then, resulting juice was loaded with yeast and allowed to ferment for 10 to 15 days. The resulting fermented juice was then double distilled to achieve the Peach Brandy.
Washington’s peach brandy was produced and sold in very limited quantities. During his lifetime, only 60 gallons of the brandy were produced each year compared to 11,000 gallon of the rye whiskey. The vast majority of the Brandy produced would be reserved for the family and guests. Very little would actually be sold. Unlike the Peach Brandy sold at Mount Vernon today, in Washington’s time the brandy would not have been aged in barrels but sold in its unaged clear, colorless form.
Cheers to Founding Father and Distiller in Chief, George Washington!