Gin lovers will have a new District-made option as of Friday, June 12, when One Eight Distilling releases its inaugural batch of Ivy City Gin. The American dry gin is named after the Northeast neighborhood where the distillery operates, though not just a tribute; $1 of every bottle sold in DC this year will go to Habitat for Humanity projects in the vicinity.
Just five months ago founders Sandy Wood and Alex Laufer opened the doors with two spirits: Washington’s first local vodka, and an un-aged whiskey, often called white whiskey, or moonshine. After years of testing recipes the gin is finally ready, and the team invited us to the “bottling party,” where a handful of volunteers filled the first 600 glass vessels.*
Ivy City is the second gin produced in the District post-prohibition; neighboring distillery Green Hat, whose main product is the namesake spirit, opened in 2012. Comparisons are inevitable in a two-gin town, but the products taste entirely different (and not by accident). Laufer, a former biologist, walked us through the process in the production room as dozens of volunteers cleaned bottles, pumped them full of gin from a 600-liter tank, and sealed caps with a heat gun. In true Washington fashion, many of the workers were lawyers looking to blow off steam, paid in cocktails and pizza. As one pointed out, a bottling party is a way to live vicariously through every attorney’s dream: owning a small business.
Like most gins, juniper is the primary botanical used in Ivy City. Laufer pointed out eight-pound bags of the berries soaking in One Eight’s vodka, which has more character than most and is made from locally-sourced rye and corn. Nine other spices and herbs are added in the gin distillation, such as lemongrass and fennel, as well as the other primary flavoring agent: spicebush. The native East Coast plant lends peppery, citrusy notes to the gin, and is unique to One Eight’s recipe.
“The challenge was try to come up with a gin that’s cocktail-friendly—both for classic and innovative drinks—but at the same time, we didn’t want to make another Bombay,” says Laufer. “We wanted something that has its own identity, and that could be identifiable.”
Based on an early taste, mission accomplished. The juniper and spicebush give Ivy City a full-bodied, peppery flavor with hints of citrus, but sips aren’t overwhelmingly pungent. We could easily stir it into a classic martini, drink it on the rocks with tonic, or mix up a gin Rickey in true DC style.
The first bottles will be available on Friday, June 12 in the tasting room ($37 per 750 ml bottle; retail prices may vary). Distribution to restaurants and liquor stores will soon follow, including a first shipment to Montgomery County, where One Eight’s spirits will soon be available. The team plans to celebrate with a release party from 6 to 8, and sell online tickets ($50 per person, including a signed bottle). If your idea of relaxation is more lawyerly, filling and boxing hundreds of bottles, call the distillery for the next chance to volunteer.
One Eight Distilling. 1135 Okie St., NE; 202-636-6638. Open to the public Saturdays from 1 to 4; large groups of 30 or more by appointment.