DC Bourbon

The DC Bourbon Boom: Five DC Area Bourbon Makers to Know and Love

The District and the surrounding region are in the midst of a bourbon boom. This is, by any measure, fantastic news. The only caveat is that you better be prepared to wait. Even with an influx of new distilleries emphasizing bourbon as a key cog in their future plans, making that beautiful brown water of life is not an overnight endeavor.

The quickest track to market is to use smaller barrels, which more rapidly age the whiskey held within. That’s what the folks at Twin Valley Distillers in Rockville, Md. are doing, and to date, they have the only available bourbon distilled in the immediate local area.

Four of the five distilleries listed here are betting big on their bourbon, but in the meantime, they’re offering thirsty consumers sourced whiskey. This means they’re buying whiskey from larger distilleries and bottling it under their own labels, typically with a finishing process in between to give the whiskey a distinctive profile.

Thankfully, all of the DC distilleries sourcing whiskey aren’t being deceptive about it. It’s a welcome change of pace in an industry that has seen so much either illicit or downright fraudulent practices in this department over the years.

Take it from Rachel Gardner of Republic Restoratives in Ivy City, who shares a common sentiment found among the area’s hardworking craft distilleries.

“We’re all about transparency,” she says. “So we want to make sure that people know what they’re buying. And that, ‘Hey, we didn’t distill this – we’re giving it some extra time in another barrel to give it some character of our own,’ so they can take that journey with us, from quality product to quality product.”

The fifth distillery on my short list below, A. Smith Bowman, does indeed have their own bourbon available (to be more precise, Buffalo Trace distills the whiskey once, and Bowman does the second run). Nevertheless, located in Fredericksburg, Va., they’re well worth the drive but are slightly beyond the truly local vicinity, so it’ll take a weekend day trip to get down to visit them.

Jos. A. Magnus & Co. Distillery
The team behind Jos. A. Magnus in Ivy City is attempting to recreate a product similar to a historic bottling from the late 1800s. To do so, they’re distilling three different mash bills, or grain recipes, two of which would qualify as a bourbon individually, with the third being a rye. And they plan on waiting at least four or five years before releasing their own stuff. The sourced releases they’re offering in the meantime have been exceedingly well-received, if a bit difficult to track down. Jos. A. Magnus: 2052 W. Virginia Ave. NE, DC; www.josephmagnus.com

KO Distilling
Located in Manassas, Va., KO Distilling produces a range of whiskeys. Their own bourbon showcases a 70 percent corn, 20 percent wheat and 10 percent malted barley mash bill, and will initially be released under the Bare Knuckle brand name in August 2017 when it’s two years old. Their sourced bourbon will hit store shelves a bit prior to that. According to cofounder Bill Karlson, with an upgrade in equipment on the way, they’ll soon be able to churn out a total of 960 barrels of whiskey per year, with about two-thirds of their efforts going into bourbon. KO Distilling: 10381 Central Park Dr. Suite 105, Manassas, VA; www.kodistilling.com

One Eight Distilling
Ivy City’s One Eight Distilling uses a high rye mash bill for their pending Rock Creek Bourbon – 57 percent corn, 28 percent rye and 15 percent malted rye. CEO Sandy Wood is hoping for a second- or third-quarter release next year. They’re also aging a wheated bourbon, subbing in the wheat for rye in the mash bill, which will be released separately. Their sourced whiskeys have been part of the ongoing “Untitled” series, of which there have been seven thus far, with more on the way. One Eight Distilling:1135 Okie St. NE, DC; www.oneeightdistilling.com

Republic Restoratives Distillery and Craft Cocktail Bar
The newest entrant is the crowd-funded Ivy City distillery from cofounders Pia Carusone and Rachel Gardner. They too are playing the sourcing game, with a six-year Kentucky bourbon they’re finishing in white wine casks, and a younger sourced rye. They’ll wait at least two years to release their own bourbon, with a high-corn, wheated mash bill. They plan on aging their bourbon in large 132-gallon puncheon casks, at least to begin with. As opposed to the trend of going small, they’re using a barrel two-and-a-half times larger than the traditional 53-gallon American standard, and believe that they will be the first puncheon-aged bourbon ever made. Republic Restoratives:1369 New York Ave. NE, DC; www.republicrestoratives.com

Road Trip: A. Smith Bowman Distillery
Fifty miles really ain’t bad to get down to A. Smith Bowman, a distillery first founded in 1935. Master distiller Brian Prewitt has been in charge for several years, and the Bowman lineup of bourbons, including Bowman Brothers and the single-barrel John J. Bowman, has been piling up the accolades as of late. They also release fun experimental releases from time to time, and in 2015 they expanded with the addition of a new still. A. Smith Bowman: 1 Bowman Dr. Fredericksburg, VA;www.asmithbowman.com

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Jake Emen

Jake Emen is a freelance writer focused on food and drink, as well as travel and lifestyle. Currently based outside of Washington, D.C., he has been published in a wide range of print and online outlets, including Whisky Advocate, Eater, Vice Munchies, Liquor.com, Tales of the Cocktail, Washington Post Express, Distiller, Roads & Kingdoms, Time Out, Tasting Table, Destination Weddings & Honeymoons, and a range of others. He also runs his own site, ManTalkFood.com, and can be followed on Twitter, @ManTalkFood.