Then he retired and quickly became bored.
“There is only so much yoga you can do,” said the Yale-educated attorney, who I later learned happens to be a neighbor of mine.
Looking for a new project to tackle, he started kicking around some ideas with his son-in-law, John Uselton, 39, who worked for more than a decade in the local restaurant and liquor industries (Obelisk in Northwest Washington and Schneider’s on Capitol Hill, respectively).
Like a lot of entrepreneurs, they gravitated to something they knew. Lowe is a cocktail lover who savors gin-stoked potables such as martinis, gin and tonics, bee’s knees (which have honey and lemon) and aviations (with maraschino liqueur).
His favorite gin is a brand called Botanist, a more contemporary drink than the traditional British “London dry style” made by Bombay, Beefeater and Tanqueray.
Soon, the two latched onto the idea of starting their own distillery, which became a small-batch operation known as New Columbia Distillers.
After sinking more than
$1 million into the venture, mostly from Lowe, New Columbia is now churning out about 40 cases (of 12 bottles each) of Green Hat Gin per week, selling it to local stores such as Ace Beverage in Northwest D.C. and Schneider’s and to restaurants/bars such as the Passenger near the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, the Gin Joint in Woodley Park, the Gibson on U Street and Room 11 in Columbia Heights.
Before they got started, Lowe took a short course on craft distilling at Cornell University, taught by engineers working for a German stillmaker, to see if the idea was financially doable. It appeared so. Research told them that gin had a growing customer base with the advent of craft cocktails, especially for those in their 20s, 30s and 40s.
They spent dozens of hours online and at liquor stores, checking out bottle designs, poring over labels, looking for something to differentiate themselves.
They began experimenting in Lowe’s Chevy Chase kitchen about a year ago with various combinations of 40 different spices and berries. The base of the gin is a soft, red winter wheat from Virginia’s Northern Neck. Their “secret sauce” is the proportions of their “botanicals,” including coriander seed, fennel seed, celery seed, lemon peel, grapefruit peel, cinnamon, lemon grass, grains of paradise, angelica root, orris root and sage.
“We picked gin because we both like gin a lot,” said the soft-spoken, bookish-looking Lowe, who — except for a sleek, black Porsche — hardly seems the picture of an entrepreneur wading into the booze business.
“If someone told me five years ago that I would be an entrepreneur and own a distillery, I would say, ‘No chance,’ ” said Lowe, who ran a team of 20 litigators for Verizon.