Washington, DC had a particularly tough go of Prohibition. The District went dry on November 1, 1917, much ahead of the rest of the country, which took the leap when the Volstead Act went into enforcement on January 17th, 1920.
“While Prohibition passed in 1919, the Sheppard Act, named after Texas Senator John Morris Sheppard, was passed in 1917, effectively instituting Prohibition throughout the District two years before the rest of the country,” explains Derek Brown, who’s been the chief spirits advisor at the Spirited Republic: Alcohol in American History exhibit at the National Archives Museum.
The 21st Amendment was passed on December 5th, 1933, the date now honored as Repeal Day, yet, Prohibition persisted in DC until March 1, 1933, an extra three months. In total, that’s about two and a half extra years of a mandated lack of happy hours in DC.
That doesn’t mean people weren’t drinking. “It was the end of legal drinking, but that hardly stopped our city from hitting the sauce,” says Brown.
In fact, you might say there was a modest collection of speakeasies serving up the hard stuff — about 3,000 or so, according to Garrett Peck’s book “Prohibition in Washington, D.C.: How Dry We Weren’t.” By 1929, it was estimated that bootleggers were hauling some 22,000 gallons of spirits into DC each week.
Now, I’m no scientist, but population statistics say that DC had 483,000 residents by the end of the 1920s. One gallon is 128 ounces, so with 22,000 gallons flooding the scene each week, equaling 2,816,000 ounces, every single person — man, woman and child — in DC could have had him or herself 5.8 ounces of sweet illegal hooch per week, and that doesn’t even include what was being made right in the city.
Of course, today speakeasies seem to be nearly as prevalent in the District as they were then, with more hidden spots and back rooms continuing to pop up in and around area. Additionally, several bars are actually located on the site of known Prohibition-era speakeasies. “I believe one was at the current site of Dirty Martini,” says Brown.
Perhaps DC residents are still making up for the Prohibition punishment of their forebears. In nearly every measurable way, according to national polls, DC residents are always near the top of imbibing lists. Hey, let’s see Indiana or Arizona try to cope with the federal government and beltway traffic.
Regardless, the end of Prohibition was especially long coming for the District, making Repeal Day celebrations all the more justified.
One of the best ways to get in on the fun will be at the 5th Annual Repeal Day Celebration at Jack Rose Dining Saloon on Saturday, December 5. The multifaceted event promises to be an all night affair, with drink specials on Prohibition-era cocktails and punches, and specialty whiskeys, as well as an option for bottomless champagne.
Downstairs, the Dram & Grain space will convert into a 1930s style speakeasy, with historic bourbons and ryes. Festivities will also include burlesque dancers, cigarette girls offering cigars for sale, and of course, plenty of whiskey all around. Admission is free, so just show up in your Prohibition-era finest.
Of course, Repeal Day parties offer a good time, but the real celebration is our booming craft distillery scene. In the pages that follow, a guide to the area’s newest round of distilleries makes it simple to score fantastic and legally made hooch. Cheers to that.
Local Distillery Guide
Don Ciccio & Figli
6031 Kansas Ave. NW, DC; 202-957-7792; www.DonCiccioeFigli.com
Flagship Spirits: Concerto (Coffee Liqueur), Nocino (Walnut), Mandarinetto (Mandarin), Fico D’india (Prickly Pear), Limoncello (Lemon), ‘5’ Cinque Aperitivo, Luna Amara Bitter, Amaro delle Sirene, Amaro delle Sirene Special Edition and Fennel.
What to Expect: Visitors will enjoy a tour and tasting featuring some of Don Ciccio & Figli’s signature handcrafted liqueurs and aperitifs. Visitors will also be able to purchase bottles of their favorite liqueurs and DCF merchandise on-site to take home with them or share with family/friends.
Tasting Room/Location Hours:
Saturdays 1 – 5 p.m.
Jos. A. Magnus & Co.
2052 West Virginia Ave. NE #202, DC; 202-450-3518; www.josephmagnus.com
Flagship Spirits: Joseph Magnus Bourbon,Vigilant Gin and Royal Seal Vodka.
What to Expect: Joseph Magnus was a significant pre-prohibition bourbon and gin distiller, blender and rectifier who founded his company in 1892, and his great grandson reopened the distillery with help of a whiskey and gin “dream team” to bring this pre-prohibition heritage to DC, including Dave Scheurich, former Woodford Reserve Distiller and Whiskey Advocate Life Time Achievement Award Winner, Nancy “The Nose” Fraley, Director of Research for American Distilling Institute and the nation’s top whiskey blender, Richard Wolf, former Chairman of the Kentucky Distillers Association and VP General Manager at Buffalo Trace and Nicole Hassoun, 2014 Washington Post Bartender of the Year and founder of custom tonic company Chronic Tonic. Tours and free tastings Saturday 1-5 p.m. and be sure to visit our Murray Hill Club cocktail lounge for custom bourbon and gin cocktails.
Tasting Room/Location Hours:
Murray Hill Club cocktail lounge open Friday 5 – 9 p.m., Saturday 1 – 9 p.m. and Sunday 1 – 5 p.m.
One Eight Distilling
1135 Okie St. NE, DC; 202-636-ONE8; www.Oneeightdistilling.com
Flagship Spirits: District Made Vodka, Ivy City Gin, Rock Creek Whiskey and Untitled special releases.
What to Expect: Representing the nation’s capital with sophisticated, hand-crafted spirits served from an industrial-chic tasting room. The distillery is also available to rent for private functions and events.
Tasting Room/Location Hours:
Open to the public for tours and tastings on Saturdays from 1 – 4 p.m. and by private appointment.
New Columbia Distillers
1832 Fenwick St. NE, DC; 202-733-1710; www.greenhatgin.com
Flagship Spirits: Green Hat Gin, Green Hat Spring/Summer Gin, Green Hat Fall/Winter Gin (“Ginavit”), Green Hat Navy Strength Gin, New Columbia Summer Cup, Capitoline White & Rose Vermouths.
Awards: Gold Medal (SF World Spirits Competition) for Spring/Summer Gin; Silver Medal (Intl Review of Spirits) for Green Hat Gin; Silver Medal (American Craft Spirits Assn) for Fall/Winter Gin.
What to Expect: A working industrial vibe with vinyl playing and handmade cocktails on offer. No charge for tastings or tours. Friendly and relaxed.
Tasting Room/Location Hours
184 Log Canoe Circle, Stevensville, MD; 443-249-3123; www.blackwaterdistilling.com
Flagship Spirits: Picaroon Maryland Rum, Sloop Betty Handcrafted Vodka.
Awards: Sloop Betty: Gold Medal and Best Vodka in Show (New York World Wine & Spirits Competition). Picaroon Gold: Silver Medal (NYWWSC). Picaroon White: Bronze Medal (NYWWSC).
What to Expect: Located an hour from DC just across the Bay Bridge, Blackwater Distilling is Maryland’s oldest and most awarded craft distillery. Join us for an approximately 45 minute tour and tasting to learn all about the art and science behind our rums, vodkas, and upcoming whiskies.
Tasting Room/Location Hours: Friday through Sunday 12 – 4:30 p.m. with tours every hour (see website for reservations). Use code ONTAP for a 50 percent discount off your reservation.
Springfield Manor Winery & Distillery
11836 Auburn Rd., Thurmont, MD; 301-271-0099; www.springfieldmanor.com
Flagship Spirits: Springfield Manor Brandy, Patriot Rum, Grappa, Lavender Gin
What to Expect: Beautiful family operated 135 acre historic estate. Our Country Inn hosts weddings, events, overnight stays and much more! Winery and Distillery located in restored bank barn. Our beautiful Bavarian Still crafts spirits onsite and our tasting room features beautiful terraces, intimate indoor seating and a large rustic chic event space for up to 150 guests. Come visit today!
Tasting Room/Location Hours:
Come join us Thursday through Sunday from noon to 6 p.m., with additional hours for special events.
Twin Valley Distillers
711 E Gude Dr., Rockville, MD; 240-421-1115; www.twinvalleydistillers.com
Flagship Spirits: Seneca Bay white rum, Seneca Bay rum (aged), Norbeck vodka, Twin Valley distillers bourbon, Twin valley corn whiskey (gluten free) and Twin Valley distillers clear whiskey.
What to Expect: In two words…MARYLAND AUTHENTIC. We are truly YOUR local distillery. Founder Edgardo Zuniga, after living in Montgomery County for over 10 years felt “compelled “to keep the business in his local area. Using the culinary “farm to table” concept Twin Valley Distillers partners with local businesses and farmers in sourcing all grain and raw products within a 50 mile radius. Grains are recycled back to local farms for animal feed. Our mission is to restore Maryland’s liquor making legacy one bottle at a time. To date, we have produced the first bourbon to be made from start to finish in Maryland. If high quality, fine taste and exclusive spirits are what you seek, then we have the answer in our products!!
Tasting Room/Location Hours: Hours for tasting are Thursday and Friday 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. We also offer private classes on the production and distillation of alcohol and opening and operating a micro distillery.
A. Smith Bowman Distillery
1 Bowman Dr., Fredericksburg, VA; 540-373-4555; www.asmithbowman.com
Flagship Spirits: Bowman Brothers Small Batch Bourbon, John J. Bowman Single Barrel Bourbon, George Bowman Rum, Deep Run Vodka and Sunset Hills Gin.
Awards: Bowman Brothers – 1st place for Best Small Batch Bourbon and 3rd place for Best Bourbon at 2015 International Whisky Competition. John J. Bowman – 2nd place for Best Single Barrel Bourbon at 2015 International Whisky Competition
What to Expect: Located just a few miles off I-95, is the historic A. Smith Bowman Distillery. With roots dating back to the repeal of Prohibition, Abram Smith Bowman and his sons relocated to Virginia, continuing a family tradition with the distillation of exceptional bourbon whiskey. As a small and family owned company, A. Smith Bowman Distillery continues the time-honored traditions on which it was founded, by producing an assortment of hand-crafted spirits distilled from only the finest natural ingredients. This micro-distillery focuses on the production of premium bourbon and other spirits, honoring the pioneering legacy of Virginia’s first settlers.
Tasting Room/Location Hours: Complimentary tours depart on the hour Monday –Saturday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Gift shop remains open until 5 p.m.
Belmont Farm Distillery
13490 Cedar Run Rd., Culpeper, VA; 540-825-3207; www.belmontfarmdistillery.com
Flagship Spirits: Virginia Lightning Corn Whiskey and our Kopper Kettle Virginia Whiskey.
Awards: Kopper Kettle Silver Award and Virginia Lightning Apple Pie second place at ADI.
What to Expect: Until 30 years ago, whiskey for popular consumption, had been made in column stills, handling thousands of gallons per hour. Only at our family owned and operated Belmont Farm, our whiskey is produced in a genuine solid copper pot still like our forefathers in the hills of VA. While others may be flooding the market, our pot still whiskey is slow and handled with care, to preserve all of the aroma and taste of a fine fresh whiskey. Our copper pot still is truly the secret of our whiskey!
Tasting Room/Location Hours: We close for the season on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, but are open for tastings and tours again after the first Saturday in April Tuesday through Saturday 11-4pm (closed Monday, Sunday and Holidays). Tours are every 20 minutes starting on the top of the hour. (Last tour will start 20 minutes before closing).
Catoctin Creek Distillery
120 W. Main St., Purcellville, VA; 540-751-8404; www.catoctincreek.com
Flagship Spirits: Roundstone Rye, Watershed Gin and Mosby’s Spirit.
Awards: Over 23 medals for our spirits (6 Gold!) and 21 company medals and awards. See Product awards at www.catoctincreek.com search awards.
What to Expect: Enjoy Catoctin’s intimate location in a beautifully restored historic building, where you can get a free tour of our operations and enjoy flights of whisky, brandy, and cocktails. Founded in 2009 as the first legal distillery in Loudoun County since before Prohibition, we are located in beautiful Purcellville, Virginia, in the heart of the Loudoun Valley. At Catoctin Creek, we believe in high quality food and spirits. Organic means higher quality: grain and fruit, sourced locally when possible, free of pesticides and chemical additives that would come through in the spirits we produce. Sure, it is more difficult to produce organically, but the results speak for themselves.
Tasting Room/Location Hours: Open Tuesday through Thursday 1 – 5 p.m., Friday 1 – 7 p.m., Saturday 12 – 7 p.m. and Sunday 1 – 6 p.m. Tours are free and conducted at five minutes past the hour. We still encourage you to make a reservation.
Copper Fox Distillery
9 River Lane, Sperryville, VA; 540-987-8554; www.copperfox.biz
Flagship Spirits: Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky, Copper Fox Rye Whisky, Vir Gin, Wasmund’s Barrel Kits.
Awards: BTI Gold Medal 92 for Wasmund’s Single Malt, BTI Gold Medal 94 for Copper Fox Rye and Best New Product Award 2012 VDACS-Barrel Kits.
What to Expect: Come visit and discover where your new favorite whisky comes from! At Copper Fox Distillery we dedicate ourselves to making great American spirits by emphasizing a combination of innovation and tradition. We start from scratch, floor malting our locally grown barley, flavoring the grain with apple and cherry wood smoke, then aging with a progressive series of hand toasted wood chips in used bourbon barrels.
Tasting Room/Location Hours:
Tastings are $7. All products are available in our distillery store. Free tours are offered on the half hour; Mon-Sat 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., Sun 1 – 6 p.m. We are closed 11/26 and 12/25.
James River Distillery
2700 Hardy St., Richmond, VA; 804-716-5172; www.jrdistillery.com
Flagship Spirits: Commonwealth Gin, Continental Gin and UA Gin.
Awards: Commonwealth: Made in Virginia 2014 winner, bronze winner in 2014 NY Spirits Competition, bronze winner in 2015 Washington Cup. Continental: Bronze winner in 2015 Washington Cup. UA: Bronze winner in 2015 Washington Cup.
What to Expect: Learn all about gin and our process done by hand from start to finish in our distillery. Finish your tour with a tasting in our new tasting room and bring home a bottle or two. We are conveniently located in the City of Richmond near the interstates.
Tasting Room/Location Hours: Monday through Friday 1 – 4 p.m., by appointment.
10381 Central Park Dr., Suite 105, Manassas, VA; 571-292-1115; www.kodistilling.com
Flagship Spirits: Battle Standard 142 Gin (Navy Strength), Battle Standard 142 Gin (Standard Strength), Virginia Moon White Whiskey and small batch bourbon aging in barrels. On-deck: aged rye, other whiskeys and possibly rum!
Awards: As we just opened in September 2015, we look forward to posting many accolades in the next distillery guide issue.
What to Expect: Located in the historic City of Manassas, a few miles south of I-66 and about 20 miles out from the DC Beltway, our 12,000 sq ft facility has a state-of-the-art distilling plant featuring a 550-gallon copper pot still, 4,000 sq ft for oak barrel storage and a top-notch 2,500 sq ft visitors center for guided tours, tastings, product sales and special events.
Tasting Room/Location Hours: We are open to the public every day except Mondays for tours, tastings and product sales, as follows: Tues – Fri 1-6 p.m.; Sat 12 – 7 p.m.; and Sun 1 – 6 p.m. Come on by, it’ll be worth the visit!
Parched Group LLC/Cirrus Vodka
1603 Ownby Lane, Richmond VA; 844-7Cirrus; www.cirrusvodka.com
Flagship Spirits: Cirrus Vodka.
Awards: Gold Medal San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
What to Expect: 100% potato vodka. Gluten Free. We take pride in the attention to detail we use to create the best vodka out there. We start with the finest ingredients and use an intricate process in our custom stainless steel still. But the most important part is enjoying the fruits of our labor. Cirrus Vodka. Hand Crafted to Be Savored.
Tasting Room/Location Hours
Tours and Tasting Room not available at this time, but we encourage you to go to our website and explore our spirits!
Virginia Distillery Company
299 Eades Lane, Lovingston, VA; 434-285-2900; www.vadistillery.com
Flagship Spirits: Virginia Highland Malt.
What to Expect: The Virginia Whisky Experience at Virginia Distillery Company. Visit us in beautiful Nelson County, just 35 miles from downtown Charlottesville amongst the Blue Ridge Mountains. Situated on 100 acres in Lovingston, Virginia, the Virginia Whisky Experience aims to be a destination in Central Virginia. Stop by to enjoy a variety of specialty whisky cocktail samples, made with the Virginia Distillery Company’s Highland Malt and seasonal ingredients sourced from local Nelson County farmers. Interested in learning more about single malt whisky production? In the spring of 2016, a museum, video and tour program will be offered, giving guests the opportunity to go behind-the-scenes to see how whisky is made, from start to finish. An educational tasting of the Virginia Distillery Company’s whisky will be available in our cask warehouse, where guests can take in the sights and smells of whisky production.
Tasting Room/Location Hours: Monday through Saturday 11 – 5 p.m. and Sunday 1 – 5 p.m.
9374 Rockfish Valley Highway Afton, VA 22920 540-456-7070; www.sbdistillery.com
Flagship Spirits: Beringei Vodka, Strange Monkey Gin and Blackback White Whiskey.
Awards: Strange Monkey Gin: San Francisco World Spirits Double Gold Medal Winner, ranked one of the top 10 best gins in the world, only distillery in the state of Virginia to ever win this award/Bronze Medal New York World Spirits Competition. Beringei Vodka: San Francisco World Spirits Competition Bronze Medal for best packaging/New York World Spirits Competition Silver Medal.
What to Expect: We have the only VA approved outside tasting area, offer free tours on Saturdays and are located along route Rt. 151 in Nelson County. We are also surrounded by 7 wineries, 2 hard cideries and 3 breweries.
Tasting Room/Location Hours: Monday 12-6 p.m.; Tuesdays and Wednesdays closed; Thursday and Friday 12 – 6 p.m.; Saturday 12-7 p.m.; Sunday 1-6 p.m.
7218 C Merrimac Trail Williamsburg, VA; 757-378-2456; www.williamsburg-distillery.com
Flagship Spirits: Yorktown Rum (currently available at the distillery, available in VA ABC in January 2016), Jamestown Gin (available in the distillery in November 2015, VA ABC in 2016) and Williamsburg Bourbon (2016).
What to Expect: Williamsburg Distillery creates superior spirits reminiscent of America’s colonial period, using period materials, recipes and methods. Our business is “Distilling the American Spirit.”
Tasting Room/Location Hours: Currently open Friday 6 – 8 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. Check our website and Facebook for expanded hours.
Bloomery Plantation Distillery
16357 Charles Town Rd., Charles Town, WV; 304-725-3036; www.bloomerysweetshine.com
Flagship Spirits: SweetShine is a line of all natural liqueurs made from 190° corn likker, mountain water, pure can sugar and farm-fresh fruit, roots and nuts.
Awards: 25 international awards, including 2015 San Francisco World Spirit Competition Double Gold for Best Nut Liqueur: Black Walnut; 2015 Good Food Award: Pumpkin Spice; One of the Best Entrepreneurial Companies in America, Entrepreneur Magazine, November 2015.
What to Expect: Come, experience our history, hooch and hospitality in a rural two-story 50’x 16’ historic log cabin on a 12 acre farm where the Blue Ridge Mountains meet the Shenandoah River in Wild and Wonderful West Virginia. We deliver a WOW experience in that tiny tasting room, with fun, laughter, great hooch and hundreds of five star reviews! We are unique, exclusive, all natural and farm-fresh. Just the bare essentials. Beautifully focused and stark-ravingly good.
Tasting Room/Location Hours: Only 15 Minutes from Harpers Ferry! Tasting room is open 12 – 6 p.m. Monday and Thursday and Friday and Saturday 11 – 8 p.m.