When it opened in 2012, New Columbia Distillers (1832 Fenwick St. NE) became the first distillery to operate in the District since Prohibition. A family affair, it's run by Michael Lowe, his wife, Melissa Kroning, daughter Elizabeth Lowe and her husband, John Uselton.
The distillery is housed in an unremarkable brick warehouse that - save for a small neon-green poster of a top hat - is devoid of flair on the exterior. (If you have trouble spotting it, follow your nose to what smells like a Grateful Dead concert: New Columbia Distillers is next door to a medical marijuana cultivation facility.)
Inside is a different scene. A complicated maze of pipes sloshes with gin in its early stages, carrying what will eventually become a smooth liquor from the mash tun (a big pot where wheat, water and yeast combine) to the copper still, a $200,000 piece of equipment that looks as if it could take off for the moon. There, harsh chemicals are stripped from the liquid, which is infused with juniper berries, citrus peels, sage leaves and fresh rosemary. Then it rests.
"Gin is like chili. It's better a few days after you make it," Michael Lowe says. "We let it sit for two weeks before we bottle it so the herbs and spices open up."
The name for the spirit, Green Hat Gin, is a tip of the, er, hat to a notorious D.C.-based bootlegger, George Cassiday, who was known to wear an emerald fedora. During Prohibition, Cassiday operated an undercover distribution center in the House Office Building, where the majority of his clients were based.
When authorities discovered his operation in 1925, he simply moved the enterprise to the Senate Office Building. It's nice having friends in high places.
"Cassiday's son lives in Fairfax, and he has a couple of kids," Lowe says. "Even if legally we're entitled to name it Green Hat Gin, we wanted the family to be happy we were doing it. But they were all delighted we were honoring their grandpa's criminal career."
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