Food

DC’s First Modern Distillery Is Closing

The makers of Green Hat Gin will shutter their Ivy City distillery and gin garden, but production will continue in Kansas.

John Uselton and Michael Lowe, founders of New Columbia Distillers (now Green Hat). Photograph by Jeff Elkins

DC’s first modern distillery, the makers of Green Hat Gin, will close on Saturday, July 16. The distillery, bar, and gin garden in Ivy City announced its impending shutter on Twitter. Massive spirit company MGP which acquired Green Hat just before the pandemic hit in March 2020, will keep gin production going at its distillery in Atchison, Kansas. The company says bottles will still be available nationally. 

New Columbia Distillers, the original maker of Green Hat, was founded by John Uselton and father-in-law Michael Lowe in 2012, and paved the way for DC’s modern distilling scene. At the time, no business had legally produced alcohol in the District since before Prohibition. (The company got its name from a famous bootlegger, the Man in the Green Hat, who sold booze to members of Congress). While building out their distillery, the founders lobbied the DC City Council—along with a growing cadre of brewers and others—to change the laws around on-site tastings and direct sales to customers, both of which were prohibited at the time. Their success lead to both personal growth—a distillery gin bar and garden would follow—and that of DC’s craft distilling and brewing scene as a whole.

Uselton, who’s no longer employed by Green Hat or MGP, says the pandemic took a heavy toll on local distilleries. 

“The big thing that people don’t think about, when we owned the distillery, is that 25 percent of sales were people coming in on Saturdays and buying bottles,” says Uselton. “That dried up in an instant, plus bars and restaurants weren’t buying anything because they were closed or doing to-go cocktails—often using the least expensive spirit they felt good about.” Though he’s no longer involved with the company, Uselton says he still feels the loss. 

“It’s sad that the first distillery in DC will be shut.”

Capitoline Vermouth, which partnered with New Columbia and once produced out of the same facility, is thankfully—mostly—unchanged. Owner Kat Hamidi says she already moved production of her white, red, and rose vermouths to Virginia’s Rosemont Vineyards & Winery around the same time New Columbia was sold. Still, Tiber—a bitter Italian-inspired liqueur—was still being produced at Green Hat. Hamidi says she just finished her last bottling, and is looking for a new home to produce the liqueur. 

“We’ll sort out the details of that production soon. We’re very sad to see them go—not for selfish production reasons, there’s plenty of contract work, but it’s been a part of our lives and DC for so long.” 

It’s been a particularly bad news day for DC imbibers. Beloved brewery 3 Stars Brewing Company, one of DC’s first modern breweries, just announced they’ll close on Sunday, July 10 after nearly a decade. 

*This post has been updated from an earlier version.

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.

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