Saturday, January 24, 2015

A three distillery day

It didn't start out that way.

I was just going to run over to Twin Valley Distillers in Rockville, Maryland, to try some of the barrel proof whiskey Edgardo Zuniga had come out with since my visit last month.
Wheat whiskey, corn and rye bourbon, corn and wheat bourbon. All barrel proof.
These have each spent two months in three gallon barrels, which adds plenty of flavor though doesn't age out the new make notes. The wheated bourbon was the sweetest. The 100% wheat whiskey was too intense for me at 120 proof, but with water opened up nicely; it would certainly bring plenty of flavor to a cocktail. The ryed bourbon was my favorite, and Edgardo filled a bottle for me.

Since it was only two o'clock when I left Twin Valley, I hopped on the Beltway to see what all the fuss at One Eight Distilling in Washington, DC, was.

The fuss was huge crowds of children in their twenties packing the tasting room and the tours that ran every ten minutes or so. Given that the distillery only opened to the public two weeks ago -- and, you know, the shots of free booze -- the crowds were expected.

In the background, you can see One Eight's tiny gin still.
The size of the place was not. The tasting room by itself is about the size of Twin Valley Distillers, and the production space is cavernous. They already have three (or was it four, why don't I ever take pictures of these things?) 2,000 liter fermentation tanks, so they should really be able to crank out the spirits (or at least keep their small bottle filling station busy).

The One Eight Rye Whiskey Warehouse.
They have two spirits bottled for sale -- a rye/corn/malted rye vodka and a rye/malted rye/corn white whiskey. As of today, they have two full size barrels of rye whiskey aging, with a bourbon mash fermenting on the other side of the plant. The rye whiskey has the same mash bill as the white whiskey, but takes more of the tails for the extra dose of congeners. I asked One Eight's COO Alex Laufer, who led the tour I took, whether they were planning on releasing a whiskey at less than two years. He said they might, but weren't really expecting to.

What sourced bourbon looks like.

Of nearer term interest are the thirty-six barrels of 9 year old bourbon they've sourced. Right now they're playing with finishing in sherry butts, and they may try other finishings too before they' bottle it.

They also plan to work on a gin recipe, using a second, tiny still for the botanical runs. At least until they settle on their recipe, they'll be distilling the botanicals individually, then mixing the spirits to get what they want. (Coincidentally, I'm going to be doing much the same thing this year, with infusions, and the juniper will all go into my wife's bottle.)

In the tasting room, I tried both the vodka and the white whiskey. The vodka was smooth with some grain flavor. I didn't care for the whiskey; I thought the flavor was muddled for drinking straight.

After One Eight, I drove around the neighborhood a bit -- the roads of that neighborhood, by the way, are all 2 blocks long and form a network in non-Euclidean space -- and twice passed New Columbia Distillers, which is about as clear a sign as you get most days.

This was my second visit to New Columbia, and while they are still disappointingly gin-based, they have now put up several barrels of rye (which, since their revenues are also gin-based, they're in no hurry to release), and are even about to make apple brandy. I stopped in to try the "ginavit," their fall/winter gin with a bit of an aquavit kick from the caraway and rye. There's juniper on the nose, which thankfully fades quickly on the palate to citrus and other botanicals. I think it's going to make a great sidecar.

So that's three distilleries in three hours and only two bottles purchased. I don't expect to beat that any time soon -- especially the purchases to distilleries ratio.

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