What’s weird is that despite the non-stop flow of booze that’s been the norm since America was founded, there weren’t any distilleries in the city for about 70 years, thanks to Prohibition. But all of that changed in 2013 when the Washington DC City Council passed a few laws that once again made it legal to distil spirits in the District of Columbia. And if you love cocktails, 2015 and 2016 kicked butt. Not just because cocktails took center stage and seasoned drinkers got the chance to throw back high caliber drinks, but because Washington, D.C.’s roster of local distilleries jumped to eight.
Here’s our guide to what’s available. Join us in raising a glass to 2017—who knows what’s in store.
What do you get when you cross a distillery with a tavern? A U Street Corridor hot spot called District Distilling. This distillery tavern, located in a brownstone townhouse, is the first in D.C. (and judging from the crowds jockeying for a table, it won’t be the last), so if you’re hungry and in the mood to try some new spirits, head over now. Take a tour of the distillery downstairs, and then make your way to the tavern to sample the distillery’s hand-crafted vodka, gin, whiskey, and rum, all made in small batches in German copper pots and column stills. Everyone, from hipsters to millennials, spirit connoisseurs, and hungry diners go to relax and get comfortable in the rustic urban atmosphere, complete with exposed brick and wood accents. And don’t forget to check out the menu for a selection of seasonal American fare.
District Distilling Co., 1414 U St NW, Washington, D.C., USA, +1 202 629 3787
In Italy, you can’t throw a rock (cocktail or otherwise) without hitting some really tasty eau de vie, liqueur, cordial, tonic, or distilled spirit. Limoncello is what actually turned Americans on to these versatile mixers, and that’s just the tip of what has been a centuries-old tradition. And now, D.C. has its own Italian expat producing exact replicas. Francesco Amodeo is the founder of Don Ciccio & Figli, and his spirits are based on old family recipes that are more than a hundred years old. His authentic range includes nut liqueurs, traditional aperitifs and intensely flavored spirits that are delicious on their own or in creative cocktails. Look for standouts like walnut, espresso, and fennel liqueurs, the Cinque Aperitivo, and the Amaro della Sirene.
Don Ciccio & Figli, 6031 Kansas Ave NW, Washington, D.C., USA, +1 202 957 7792
If you want a quintessential D.C. story, you need to look no further than the story behind Green Hat Gin, which is distilled by New Columbia Distillers. According to local myths, during Prohibition, George Cassiday was THE bootlegger in charge of supplying members of the U.S. Congress with illegal hooch, and he earned a reputation for being a fixer. A flamboyant Irishman known for his sense of style and gift of the gab, Cassiday was easily recognizable by his green felt hat. During his daily rounds of both houses of Congress, he would discreetly take alcohol orders from Members who furtively referred to him as the “Man in the Green Hat.”
His illicit spirits sales eventually landed him in trouble with the law, but at New Columbia, John Uselton and Michael Lowe, the founders, pay homage to this local lore by naming their flagship gin as a nod to D.C.’s first spirits ambassador. Their range includes the original, Green Hat Gin, plus Navy Strength Gin, a spring/summer gin version that uses a mix of botanicals, florals, and citrus that complement sunny weather drinking, and a fall/winter version that’s warm and inviting. There is also a new release, Summer Cup, that’s based on an old British tradition that involves infusing Navy Strength Gin with lots of citrus fruit, cucumber, black, tea, verbena, lavender, and herbs and spices that are then combined with Capitoline White Vermouth and lightly sweetened.
New Columbia Distillers, 1832 Fenwick St NE, Washington, D.C., USA, +1 202 733 1710
If you didn’t already know this, the United States’ Founding Fathers were serious imbibers of all sorts of potent potables from Madeira to rye whiskey, and when the folks at One Eight Distilling were just getting started, they wanted to celebrate George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and the establishment of the nation’s capital. To do this, they chose to name the distillery One Eight Distilling, which takes its name from Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution, that Article that established Washington, D.C. as the nation’s capital. Whether you’d like gin, vodka, or whiskey, this distillery has a range of spirits that are excellent served neat or in cocktails.
One Eight Distilling, 1135 Okie St NE, Washington, D.C., USA, +1 202 636 6638