Two hundred and 11 years after his death, George Washington still surprises. The custodians of his old estate at Mount Vernon, Virginia have just begun distilling and bottling whiskey using Washington's own recipe. Bet you didn't know that our First President was also one of America's biggest whiskey producers. But there's more to the story that that.
You see, George was one of the guys who helped institute the first big federal tax upon Americans. In the early 1790s, our toddler government decided prove its power to the population in one swoop by creating and enforcing the collection of a tax on whiskey.
It wasn't popular. We were a country of mostly farmers back then, and most of us didn't have much money. The tax also favored the big whiskey producers and was tough on the folks who just made it for their families and their communities. Some of the men who made whiskey in Pennsylvania, many of them straight off the boat from the champion distilleries of Scotland, decided they would fight to stop the American government from -- gasp! -- reaching into their pockets to fish out a tax.
They tarred and feathered some unfortunate tax collectors, which was an extremely painful fate, and burned down some of their houses. The government, embarrassed, decided that being flouted like that would set a bad precedent, so they they sent some 13,000 troops -- more than in most battles of the Revolutionary War -- to the Pittsburgh area to quell the violence and force the new Americans to cough up their money.
The guy who led those troops and aimed his guns at the anti-tax rebellion was, by the end of the decade, himself one of the country's biggest whiskey producers: George Washington. He helped crush the mom-and-pop American whiskey industry -- and then he learned to dominate it.
Say it ain't so, Georgie!
I went to Mount Vernon to see the rebuilt distillery, check out the whiskey, and find out what George Washington has to say about his choice of business venture.
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