Pia Carusone and Rachel Gardner, the owners of Republic Restoratives Distillery, are bringing diversity to Ivy City’s busy craft liquor corridor.
In May, the two officially opened the city’s first women-owned distillery, where they’re producing vodka and working on a line of bourbon. Although women are increasingly launching distilleries and breweries across the country, it remains somewhat of a rarity in the physically demanding and male-dominated industry.
“When it’s you that’s doing it, you’re not always so conscious of how different that is — the reaction we’re getting is, ‘Wow, it’s just you two,’ ” says Carusone, who concedes, “We still get called ‘girls’ all the time.”
The opening of the distillery (1369 New York Ave. NE) comes amid an alcohol production renaissance of sorts across Northeast Washington. In recent years, the Ivy City neighborhood, off New York Avenue NE, has attracted luxury apartments, retailers and several craft liquor businesses, including New Columbia Distillers, One Eight Distillingand Jos. A. Magnus & Co. Distillery, along with Atlas Brew Works, which makes beer.
Breweries have set up shop in other Northeast neighborhoods, too, driven in part by zoning restrictions and the need for affordable warehouse space. Hellbender Brewing and 3 Stars Brewing are between Fort Totten and Takoma, while DC Brau Brewing is on Bladensburg Road NE. In December, Right Proper Brewing Company, which operates a restaurant and brewpub in Shaw, opened a production and tasting facility in Brookland.
All of the activity has led to a sense of community, not competition, says Justin Cox, who co-founded Atlas in 2013. When the brewery recently ran out of plastic wrap while preparing an order, he knew where he could turn for help.
“I called One Eight and they said, ‘Oh, we’ve got some plastic for you.’ So I drove over there and got their plastic wrap,” Cox says. “It’s a communal atmosphere in that way.”
Atlas (2052 West Virginia Ave. NE) is innovating, too. It recently unveiled a new taproom on-site that will be open to customers seven days a week, and in December it took an environmental leap, installing solar panels on the roof. The move has cut the electricity bill in half.
The Republic Restoratives owners located their building about three years ago. Before opening their distillery, Carusone worked in politics and served as chief of staff for former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), while Gardner has a background in sustainable natural resource development. Carusone says they have received a warm welcome in the neighborhood. “I think we’re going to have an awesome distiller’s district that’s going to be the envy of the country,” Carusone says. “It’s really unusual to have all of us located in that one neighborhood.”
The clustering is attractive for customers, too. Many of the businesses offer weekend tours and invite food trucks to stop by. “The craft scene is blowing up here, so it’s a fun, less touristy thing to do with family members,” says Ally White, an Atlas patron who lives in Columbia Heights.
Let’s just say it can be a different kind of tourist experience. Republic Restoratives wants visitors to fully understand its process and plans to offer tours along with tastings.
Says Carusone, “We want people to experience how bourbon is made.”