Washington is in the middle of a gin renaissance. New Columbia Distillers has gone from strength to strength, releasing well-regarded seasonal and Navy strength versions. One Eight Distilling released its Ivy City Gin in June, just in time for World Gin Day. And sometime in the next two months, the Jos. A. Magnus and Co. distillery will open above Atlas Brew Works's Ivy City brewery, launching with a gin, bourbon and other to-be-named-later spirits.
Spearheading Magnus and Co.'s gin is Nicole Hassoun, who has worked in Washington's foremost gin bars, Wisdom and the Gin Joint at New Heights. (Readers of Express named her D.C.'s Best Bartender in 2014.) But Hassoun doesn't just mix other people's drinks: While at New Heights, she began developing a line of housemade tonics, which are now sold as Chronic Tonic at a number of D.C. liquor stores.
It's this creative background that Hassoun will draw on as a gin distiller, or "Gin Goddess," as a company press release puts it, working alongside such veterans as former Buffalo Trace general manager Richard Wolf and former Woodford Reserve general manager Dave Scheurich. "I don't have a lot of distillation in my background," Hassoun admits. "I've got the knowledge but not so much the hands-on experience." She's been working with her new co-workers and taking notes at other area distillers. "It's been cool learning and watching what other people do, and learning the thought process."
Hassoun doesn't want to give away too much about the as-yet-unnamed gin, though she says it's "really well-balanced" in the London Dry style. It also uses exclusively American ingredients, so Hassoun says she's spent her time "knocking on farmers' doors, schmoozing them, and getting them to sell me their wares."
Working at D.C.'s top gin bars has allowed Hassoun to try a wide variety of gins, and she says she's "not beholden to one style." She explains that she didn't have any particular cocktails in mind when crafting the new recipe, but "prefers a gin that can shine through, and stand out" regardless of other ingredients. "I've been through it all," she says, "Aviations to Last Words to gin-and-tonics, making sure the gin shines through, whether you're doing [cocktails] with citrus or doing it with chartreuse."
But Hassoun isn't just planning to be a fixture among the stills: She's also going to be crafting the cocktail program for the Jos. A. Magnus and Co. distillery bar, creating drinks featuring all of the house spirits. "I'll be hands-on, pushing my boundaries and educating myself," she says.