Straight to the Source – One Eight Distillery

Ivy City.  No, I’d never heard of it either: It’s the heavily industrial, off-the-beaten track area of NE DC I’ve passed without a thought about 2,000 times.  Only recently did I learn about the booze-fueled renaissance occurring there, with several new distilleries and breweries sprouting up in the past year or so. Curious to see it for myself, I headed over to One Eight Distillery on a sunny holiday Sunday for a tour and tastings.  Parking at the site is very convenient and the immediate environ feels safe, although I’d be a bit hesitant to hang around at night.  Indoors the decor is really, really beautiful.  Extremely well-crafted tasting room and bar that pays homage to the industrial “edge” of the environment but adds a nice sheen of folksy warmth. A great place for groups to relax and mull over the in-house offerings.

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Upon entry you get three free chips that let you sample each one of One Eights spirits: white whiskey, gin, and vodka. My guide, Andrew, was ultra-friendly and really knew his stuff — he’s a cocktail aficionado and experienced bartender, so it was a lot of fun sounding him out on the ins and outs of the offerings. You get three shots that are generous enough to let you explore the characteristics of each drink — they were all unique but my favorite by far was the gin, ultra ultra smooth.  I couldn’t wait to buy a bottle to try it in my home mixes.

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Speaking of cocktails, One Eight also offers a battery of three cocktails that incorporate their spirits.  I had the “Livin in America” and “Last Afternoon at the Beach” — both were pretty easy sippers, nothing complicated, just tasty drinks that hint at how you might use the base elements in various concoctions.  Nice for a summer weekend hang with friends.

Then the tour begins — the website claims that the tour starts every thirty minutes but it seems like that schedule stretches a bit, especially as larger groups come in.  No harm in that, given the plentiful alcohol and attractive surroundings — they can start whenever they want, I say!  The ~50 minute tour is led by one of the company’s co-founders and definitely relates the “DIY” vibe of the city’s flourishing distillery/brewery scene.  I thought, erroneously, that the big companies might have already stepped in and started fronting these start-ups, but that is certainly not the case — this is boot-strap booze-making at its finest.  You get some good context and history of spirit making in the US and locally, lots of interesting factoids such as the number of pre-prohibition distilleries (4,000) compared to the current number (600).  The technical details are pretty interesting — you could tell the folks there just love the science and geek out on all of the magical intricacies involved in making good liquor.  I found it pretty infectious, myself.  Word of warning — it is hot hot hot in the production area, so if you’re heading over in the next few weeks, dress light.

What a great day trip!  Very accessible, and in two hours I learned all about spirit production, had some cocktails and shots, and picked up a bottle of stand-out gin for my troubles.  It also gets you very pumped up for the DC spirits scene — clearly there are some really enthusiastic and dedicated folks out there who are working hard to build a niche, and I’m excited to help them do it!

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