Presidents Day: George Washington wrote a beer recipe and other odd facts about him

Posted at 3:27 PM, Feb 08, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-16 22:27:37-05

George Washington was a general, a president — and a great dancer.

Here are some oddball facts about the first and perhaps greatest president of all time:

Washington was a beer and whisky man

Because of soil depletion, Washington was forced to abandon growing tobacco on his Mount Vernon estate. To diversify, he grew wheat andstarted a distillery.

“He was at the cutting edge of experimentation because the old planter approach didn’t work,” said Pulitzer prize-winning presidential historian Joseph Ellis.

By the time Washington died in 1799, Mount Vernon had the largest distillery in the United States. You canbrew George Washington’s beer using a recipe recorded in his diary:

  • Take a large sifter full of bran hops to your taste

  • Boil these three hours then strain out 30 gallons into a cooler

  • Put in 3 gallons molasses while the beer is scalding hot or rather draw the molasses into the cooler and strain the beer on it while boiling hot

  • Let this stand till it is little more than blood warm

  • Then put in a quart of yeast

  • If the weather is very cold cover it with a blanket and let it work in the cooler 24 hours

  • Then put it into the cask – leave the bung open till it is almost done working

  • Bottle it that day/week it was brewed

Washington was an early vaccine proponent

Smallpox killed more troops in the Revolutionary War than battle. To put a stop to that, Washington declared in 1776 that all incoming soldiers to the Continental Army had to be vaccinated against smallpox.

Before hypodermic needles, vaccination was done by taking the puss of a smallpox patient and inserting it into an incision made on a healthy person. The recipient would catch a smaller version of the disease and become immune.

Mortality rates for inoculation were about 3 percent, Ellis said. It was more than 10 times higher if one caught smallpox the normal way.

Washington was himself immune to smallpox. He caught it as a child during a trip to Barbados with his half brother.

“People say he was immune to everything,” Ellis said.

Washington was a great dancer

Washington was a famed dancer and horseback rider. At 6’2”, he was half a foot taller than the average man in the 1700s.

Besides the height — Washington was ripped. Ellis compared him to an Olympic athlete.

“He was a physical specimen,” Ellis said. “He was physically really distinctive — it’s the first impression that everyone had of him.”

The ladies loved Washington for his dancing. He eventually married Martha Dandridge Custis, a wealthy, 26-year-old widow with two children.

“He married the largest widow’s fortune in Virginia, which catapulted him to the top rank of Virginia planters,” Ellis said.

Washington had no children of his own.

Washington paid slaves for their teeth

Washington did not have wooden dentures. That’s a myth. But he did wear metal dentures with teeth made of ivory and – human teeth.

“He paid his African American slaves money if they would pull their teeth and sell them to him,” Ellis said.

Washington began losing his teeth in his 20s. By the time he became president at 57, most of his teeth were gone. Washington’s bad teeth were a source of discomfort for him during his entire adult life.

Washington was expected to be buried underneath the U.S. Capitol.

When George Washington died, a tomb was added to the plans for the U.S. Capitol building, which was still under construction. The tomb would have included a marble statue of Washington.

The tomb was built, but Martha Washington enforced her husband’s wishes to be buried at Mount Vernon.

“He wanted to be buried in the place that he loved,” Ellis said.

The Capitol would be a strange place to visit if the first president was buried underneath it.

Gavin Stern is a national digital producer for the Scripps National Desk.