Although a good stiff drink is an essential part of the lubricant that keeps national politics running, it wasn’t until 2013 that you could distill spirits within the beltway. That’s when something incredible happened: The city passed three new laws legalizing distillation in the District of Columbia.
In essence, craft distilleries can now open and sell their products on site and class C liquor license holders can apply for a Distillery Pub Permit, which allows for on-site distilling. Almost immediately, distillers stepped into the void and began making local hooch again, like gin from Green Hat and vodka and whiskey from One Eight Distilling. In August 2016, the first restaurant-distillery, District Distilling, received its on-premise permit “to manufacture, distill and store craft liquors—like gin and vodka.” Now, the law’s impact has started to change the cocktail and restaurant landscape in exciting ways.
Virtually simultaneously, distilleries started to open all across the DMV. Here’s a list of what’s made and where.
When it opened in 2009, Catoctin Creek Distilling Company was the first legal distillery in Loudoun County, Virginia, since Prohibition. Since then, it has become a local and national darling with the spirits set, and the husband-and-wife team of Scott and Becky Harris are experts at producing award-winning, certified organic and kosher gin, brandy, and whiskey.
120 W. Main St., Purcellville, VA
Copper Fox Distillery
Sperryville is more known for its quaint B&Bs, wealthy D.C. weekenders, and antique stores than its spirits scene. So opening a whiskey distillery in this small country town might not have been first choice to most distillers. But Rick Wasmund knew what he wanted to make. He was inspired by the malt used in single malt whiskey he’d during tasting trips to Scottish distilleries and wanted to produce an American whiskey that reflected the character of Virginia’s terroir. To that end, the spirits use “The Smoke Of Selected, Smoldering Fruitwoods, and Hand-CUT, Toasted Fruitwood,” according to the Copper Fox Distillery website.
9 River Lane, Sperryville, VA
Cotton & Reed
Fans of white and spiced rums have plenty to celebrate, and Cotton & Reed has two former NASA strategists to thank for the tasty white, dry, and spiced rums produced. Distiller Chas Jefferson uses wild yeast strains and small-batch distilling to create rum packed with flavor and distinct identities. For a taste of the wares, head to Union Market or visit any well-stocked bar in the District. Mixologists in the know are sure to have these rums on hand for use in expertly prepared cocktails.
1330 Fifth St. NE, Washington, D.C.
Don Ciccio & Figli
Classic Italian liqueurs are all the rage these days, but their history goes back centuries, and lucky for us, we have an Italian expat producing fantastic versions right here. Francesco Amodeo is the founder of Don Ciccio & Figli, and he produces exceptional, authentic spirits based on family recipes that go back a hundred years. Originally from the Amalfi Coast, Amodeo brought his father and grandfather’s recipes for liqueurs and apéritifs that are intensely flavored and perfect alone or in mixed drinks. Look for standouts like walnut, espresso, and fennel liqueurs.
6031 Kansas Ave. NW, Washington, D.C.
District Distilling Co.
The U Street Corridor is no stranger to hungry crowds jostling for a trendy place to eat and drink, and now District Distilling is open so anyone can enjoy great food paired with fabulous distilled spirits made on site.
The chance to taste the magic elixirs in situ is not only a first for D.C.; it’s a fun place to sample the distillery’s line of vodka, gin, whiskey, and rum, which are all handmade in German copper pots and column stills. Rustic, earthy colors accented with exposed brick walls and honed woodwork make the bar and restaurant feel comfortable. Downstairs, take a tour of the distillery and find out what goes into producing small-batch, craft-distilled spirits.
1414-1418 U St. NW, Washington, D.C.
Farmers & Distillers
Small batch is the new artisanal, and distillers bent on riding the spirits wave are popping up all over. The folks behind the restaurant Founding Farmers and Farmers Fishers Bakers have been known for their great cocktail programs, and now they’ve joined the spirits boom with Farmers & Distillers. They don’t just want to serve great cocktails they want to make them with their own stuff, so they’ve opened a distillery and restaurant in Penn Quarter and are distilling small-batch vodka and Amaro and making their own clementine and aromatic bitters. Naturally, these spirits end up in fantastic cocktails like the Clementine cooler. It’s a riff on vodka sour made with Founding Spirits vodka infused with clementine, Founding Spirits clementine bitters, lime, honey, and maraschino. If you really go for the bitter stuff try the Founding Spirits Amaro on the rocks; it’s killer.
600 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, D.C.
Jos. A. Magnus & Co
Anyone with a passion for locally produced spirits who hasn’t visited the Ivy City neighborhood needs to put it on their hot list. Ivy City has become an enclave for local distillers like New Columbia Distillers, One Eight Distilling, Republic Restoratives, and Jos. A. Magnus & Co., which also includes the Murray Hill Club cocktail bar. This latest addition to the spirits scene is a revival of a successful distillery from the 1800s shuttered during Prohibition. The man behind this new venture is the great-grandson of the original founder, and he proudly produces award-winning gin and bourbon using old family recipes discovered decades after the original distillery closed.
2052 W. Virginia Ave. NE, Washington, D.C.
Lyon Distilling Company
Believe it or not, Maryland has a distilling tradition that goes back centuries, so it’s sort of a no brainer for Lyon Distilling Company in St. Michaels, Maryland, to recreate the tradition that goes back to the colonial era. When Lyon introduced its Maryland Free State Rye Whiskey, it became the first rye made in Maryland since 1972, and it’s just one of the spirits in a portfolio that includes a selection of rums and New Make Corn Whiskey. Almost from the get-go this Eastern Shore company has been a favorite with bartenders, whiskey writers, and consumers, and only time will tell what other tasty drams the distillers have up their sleeves.
605 S. Talbot St. #6, St. Michaels, MD
New Columbia Distillers
Remember how we mentioned booze was an essential part of politics? Well, this distiller really took that concept to heart when it designed its iconic Green Hat gin. New Columbia Distillers has made a name for itself with this out-of-this-world gin and plays up the direct connection to Congress. The story goes that during Prohibition, George Cassiday was the bootlegger for certain congressmen with a thirst for the stuff, and he was the ultimate fixer. A dandy and Irishman with a gift for smooth talking, Cassiday never went anywhere without wearing an easily recognizeable green felt hat. As he made the rounds of both houses, members discreetly called him simply the “Man in the Green Hat” and knew they could count on him to supply the illicit spirits. His role in promoting, albeit illegally, Congressional consumption of spirits eventually got him in trouble, but the folks at New Columbia have kept this scandalous bit of local trivia alive by naming its flagship gin after Mr. Cassiday and his prescient foray into spirits marketing.
1832 Fenwick St. NE, Washington, D.C.
MurLarkey Distilled Spirits
The stuff made at Murlarkey Distilled Spirits may be made in Virginia but its heart and soul are pure Celtic and Irish. Founded by three cousins, Thomas Murray, Michael Larkin, and James Larkin, with Ireland in their DNA, they wanted to give a nod to their family’s lineage and used an anagram of their names to come up with Murlarkey, which references the Irish word for nonsense or BS. The joking ends there because these lads are dead serious about making fantastic lemon-infused whiskey, premium white whiskey, cinnamon-infused whiskey, and premium gluten-free potato vodka.
7961 Gainsford Court, Bristow, VA
One Eight Distilling
George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and other Founding Fathers were known imbibers, and the intimate bonds between politics and the consumption of alcohol were sealed then. So it’s only natural for One Eight Distilling to take its name from Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, which gave Congress the power to establish a national capital. Whether you prefer gin, vodka, or whiskey, this local distillery has a range of spirits that are terrific served neat and in cocktails.
1135 Okie St. NE, Washington, D.C.
Sometimes, if you want something right, you just have to have a woman do it, and Republic Restoratives is proof positive. They are joining their other female and male distillers in the DMV, but what makes Republic Restoratives unique is it’s nation’s only wholly woman-owned distillery and it’s also the largest crowd-funded distillery in the world. The founders are bonkers about cool cocktails and use their craft vodka and bourbon to make exceptional drinks at their bar.
1369 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C.
Twin Valley Distillers
Take one retired chef, an interest pairing food and spirits, and you have the recipe for a new distillery in Rockville, Maryland, a suburb north of D.C. Twin Valley Distillers is the first distillery in Montgomery County and only the third in the state, but it is dedicated to making a uniquely authentic Maryland product. The distillery buys the grains for its vodka, corn whiskey, bourbon, and Jamaican-style rum from the state’s farmers and is the first distillery to produce bourbon in the state that’s made in the state.
711 E. Gude Drive, Rockville, MD