Home | Archaeology Magazine | More Digs | AIA
Archaeology's Interactive Dig
April-November 2003InteractiveDig Mount Vernon
The barrel racing event at Bourbonfest
Dennis sketches the eighteenth-century still at the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History.

Photos courtesy Historic Mount Vernon. Click on images for larger versions.
by Gwyn Maccubbin

Learning from Kentucky Bourbonfest

Through our relationship with DISCUS and the Kentucky distilling community, we had a special opportunity to learn more about the modern distilling process. The Mount Vernon archaeology crew packed up and headed to Bardstown, Kentucky, to participate in the 12th Annual Kentucky Bourbonfest sponsored by the Kentucky Distillers Association. We'll apply what we learned there to our interpretation of George Washington's whiskey distillery.

Mount Vernon archaeology began excavation of the distillery site to learn more about George Washington's role as an entrepreneur. In 2001, a mutually beneficial partnership was forged when DISCUS began funding the excavation and reconstruction of George Washington's distillery. Besides monetary support from DISCUS, our relationship has helped us make connections with master distillers from several distilleries who are excited to be aiding in our understanding of eighteenth-century distilling techniques.

Our group toured several distilleries including Labrot & Graham, Makers Mark, and Four Roses. An extensive personal lecture given by Jim Rutledge at the Four Roses Distillery on the history of Kentucky distilling and the chemistry and mechanics involved really helped us understand the process. We were able to review all of the components of distilling during our tour of the facility led by Al Young, including assessing grain quality, tasting sour mash and beer, and learning how to correctly identify aromas in the bourbon.

We did additional research at the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History in Bardstown, where we measured an eighteenth-century still. The museum exhibits gave us a better grasp on the history of distilling, including prohibition and the temperance movement of the 1930s.

On Friday afternoon, we attended an event at Jim Beam to induct the 2003 recipients into the industry's Hall of Fame. They also unveiled a replica of an eighteenth-century still thought to be George Washington's and highlighted the archaeological work at Mount Vernon. Vendome Copper & Brass Works, Inc., handmade the still to the exact specification of a colonial period example in the Smithsonian collection. The approximately 30-gallon copper pot still will be used to test eighteenth-century distilling recipes and technologies during the next two years.

Ten master distillers are coming to Mount Vernon on October 21 to experiment with the replicated copper pot still. They'll use George Washington's own recipe of 60 percent rye, 35 percent corn, and 5 percent malted barley to produce whiskey for the event. However, this whiskey will be more like moonshine than the smooth flavor of modern Kentucky distillers!

A last note on our experiences at Bourbonfest. We all thoroughly enjoyed spending time participating in the main activities at the festival. Live music, southern food, and of course bourbon tasting, was enjoyed by all. What our crew enjoyed most of all was competing for lasting longest on the mechanical bull. Points have to go to our boss, Dennis Pougue, for being a good sport and riding along with us!

Previous pageNext page

InteractiveDig is produced by ARCHAEOLOGY Magazine
© 2003 Archaeological Institute of America

Home | Archaeology Magazine | More Digs | AIA