Washington's whiskey hits the big time

If price is a hallmark of whiskey quality, chalk up another first for George Washington.

In addition to being, as the historic phrase goes, "first in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen" a bottle of the first George Washington Distillery Straight Rye Whiskey produced at Mount Vernon in 200 years went at auction for $100,000.

That makes it the record for the price of a bottle of American whiskey.

The Spirit of Mount Vernon dinner raised more than $200,000 in table sales, raising the total tally to more than $350,000 raised for Mount Vernon during both the dinner and auction. The auction lot, which included bottle numbers one and two of a limited edition of 24 bottles, was produced in October 2003 by a team of master distillers, then aged in a specially-made oak cask for more than two years on the grounds of Washington's estate in Virginia, then hand-bottled and labeled on Sept. 27 this year.

Marvin Shanken, chairman of M. Shanken Communications, made the high bid of $100,000. Shanken founded lifestyle and business publications for the wine and spirits industry, including Wine Spectator and Impact. Shanken is donating bottle No. 1 to a permanent display in the George Washington Distillery Museum, which will open to the public in April 2007. Bottle No. 2 will stay in his personal collection.

Ivan Menezes, president and CEO of Diageo NA, purchased bottle No. 3 for $25,000. Mark Smith, vice president of Brown Forman Corp., purchased bottle No. 5 for $12,000. Bottle No. 4 was presented to England's Prince Andrew, who cut the ribbon earlier in the day at the official dedication of the newly reconstructed distillery -- a project Mount Vernon began in 2000 with a grant from the Distilled Spirits Council and the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America.

The master distillers who participated in the project were Joseph Dangler of Virginia Gentleman, Chris Morris of Jack Daniel's, Lincoln Henderson of Woodford Reserve, David Pickerell of Maker's Mark (see above offering samples of clear whiskey to Mount Vernon visitors), Jerry Dalton of Jim Beam, Ken Pierce of Very Old Barton, Gerry Webb of I.W. Harper and Geo. A Dickel, James Graf and Raylene Perry of Platte Valley, Jimmy Russell of Wild Turkey, Ron Call of Cruzan Rum, and Willie Ramos of Bacardi.

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