While at Ivy City’s One Eight Distilling on Saturday, it seemed appropriate that I found myself beside a green-coated wall while discussing the life and growth of DC’s distillery scene.
“As we uncovered these walls, we saw these green colors here and in the tasting room, and we actually left them,” said Alex Laufer, One Eight’s cofounder and head distiller, as he pointed out the walls and exposed pipes that decorated his office.
One Eight held the official release party for its new liquor, Rock Creek Bourbon, this weekend. For the occasion, Laufer and his team converted their headquarters, which houses a distillery, warehouse and tasting room, into a pop-up festival grounds.
The event featured local vendors, such as gelato company Dolcezza and Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken, a liquor-bottle engraving booth, fine glassware for sale and, of course, free tastings of the new bourbon. Laufer’s small office provided one of the few refuges from the commotion.
“It’s such a growing and fast-changing neighborhood,” Laufer said of his secluded slice of Northeast DC, located a block from New York Avenue.
He added that when One Eight moved into the area, it was a very gritty neighborhood. The distillery’s location is an essential part of its identity, and it made Saturday’s event historic. Rock Creek Bourbon is “the first bourbon to be distilled, aged and bottled in the District of Columbia since Prohibition,” according to a press release for the event.
The timing was essential, too. After all, September is National Bourbon Heritage Month.
“I looked up events for National Bourbon Month, and this came up,” said Angie Lomax, who attended the event with her parents from Brandywine, Maryland. Glass crashed and shattered behind the bar of the tasting room as Angie described the taste of the infant bourbon.
“I thought it was kinda spicy,” Lomax said.
“I thought it was smooth, no bite,” said Darnell Lomax, Angie’s father. “I like mine straight, so it was better that way. I don’t put the rocks in mine.”
“It’s an approachable, kind of all-purpose bourbon,” said Nina Shebest, One Eight’s assistant distiller. “It’s not quite as super sweet as a lot of bourbons. Secondary to that, you get the rye spice. Some caramel and toffee qualities in there are really nice; kind of burnt sugar.”
Shebest said the second biggest ingredient in Rock Creek Bourbon after corn – bourbon has to be at least 51 percent corn – is rye. The rye is delivered from Culpepper, Virginia, which highlights the “grain to glass” concept that Laufer has championed.
“The city, I think, is really craving knowing where their products are coming from and how they’re being made,” Laufer said.
He noted the craft breweries that have cropped up in the District in recent years, such as DC Brau, 3 Stars Brewing Company and One Eight’s neighbor, Atlas Brew Works. Laufer said that when he and cofounder Sandy Wood started One Eight, they were the third distillery to open in the District (the first was another neighbor, New Columbia Distillers).
Last week was also the third annual Whiskers and Whiskey cocktail party, for which One Eight teamed up with other local vendors to benefit the Humane Rescue Alliance, located around the corner from the distillery. It’s yet another example of how the distillery has dedicated itself to the community in which it resides.
With Saturday’s event, One Eight Distilling showcased the thriving Ivy City neighborhood and the continuing expansion of the District’s craft distillery scene. And with Rock Creek Bourbon, it sprouted another healthy stem.
For more information about the distillery, visit www.oneeightdistilling.com.