The Best Distilleries in Washington

Local craft breweries have given Washington a thriving beer culture. Now it’s hard liquor’s turn.

A tasting guide to the new—and some tried-and-true—small-batch local distilleries. Photographs by Jeff Elkins

Mount Vernon

Historian turned distiller Steve Bashore leads a small team that uses historically correct methods, wooden buckets, and copper-pot stills to eke out two batches of whiskey on average a year. It’s worth a visit just to take in the aroma of wood smoke and sweet rye, but the gift shop does carry bottles that sell out quickly after each release.

Catoctin Creek

Scott and Becky Harris strategically situated their distillery in Purcellville in the heart of Virginia wine country, and even staunch wine lovers admit their Roundstone Rye’s warming spice and mellow sweetness are as comforting as a buxom Bordeaux. Skeptical? Try their Virginia Brandy, made from local grapes and aged in real Bordeaux barrels.

Lyon Distilling Company

This year-old St. Michaels outfit churns out spot-on corn andrye whiskeys as well as white rum, but distiller Ben Lyon’s staple is dark rum, a blend of molasses and sugar cane distilled in particularly small pots to heighten the caramelized goodness, then aged in barrels.

Twin Valley Distillers

Edgardo Zuniga—a former sous chef at Old Ebbitt Grill, Founding Farmers, and Clyde’s—is the first to tell you he’s learning as he goes. But only a few months into full-bore production in Rockville, Zuniga already hits all the right notes in his Seneca Bay Rum. He recently completed what he believes is Maryland’s first-ever batch of bourbon.

New Columbia

Inside an unassuming cinder-block building near Union Market is a state-of-the art, sculptural copper still imported from Germany that produces Green Hat, a gin distantly related to the standard juniper-laden London Dry. Herbal flavors are emphasized for a unique and, frankly, better G&T experience.

One Eight

Set to open in the new year, One Eight ’s tasting room on Okie Street, off Northeast DC’s New York Avenue, will feature its gin and rye whiskey but will also bring DC’s first vodka since Prohibition, made from local grain. One Eight’s proximity to New Columbia and Atlas Brew Works will make the Ivy City neighborhood a boozehound’s paradise.

This article appears in the January 2015 issue of Washingtonian.