Wednesday, October 17, 2012

DC Distillery Brings Spirit Back to the Capital

George Cassiday: my kind of businessman.
In my book George Cassiday is an American icon. Cassiday was a WWI vet who returned to the States and struggled to scrape by during the dark and dry days of Prohibition. But Cassidy figured out where the money was: bootlegging. It wasn’t long before Cassiday had carved out quite a life for himself secretly supplying members of the U.S. House and Senate with homemade spirits.
Cassiday would load up suitcases with liquor from a supplier in New York and smuggle them via train down to DC. A House Member gave Cassiday access to a secure basement office where he set up his spirits shop. His customers were the country’s lawmakers, supporters and opponents of Prohibition alike. The Office of the Clerk of the House quotes Cassiday as saying that Representatives were customers, “nearly every day Congress was in session and [I] had no serious trouble.” For ten years Cassiday supplied bootleg liquor to nearly four out of five lawmakers and “and exposed the hypocrisy of a Congress flaunting the rules it imposed on America.”

When Cassiday was finally arrested the U.S. House’s Sergeant at Arms described the man as wearing “a light green felt hat.” The media loved the story of this industrious bootlegger selling booze to the very people who had outlawed it. “The Man in the Green Hat” made his way into history, the American people made the hypocritical anti-booze lawmakers pay and Prohibition was repealed.
The spirit of bootlegging in DC lives on.
Cassiday’s (distilled) spirit now lives on Washington, DC’s New Columbia Distillery. The family endeavor is owned by Michael Lowe and his wife Melissa Kroning, and husband and wife John Uselton and Elizabeth Lowe. “In 2011 John and Michael were the first to bring craft distilling to DC,”they say on their website. “After a brief apprenticeship with Dry Fly Distillery, they located a home for their distillery in a 90-year-old warehouse near the Art Deco landmark Hecht Co. warehouse on New York Ave. When they learned the history of The Man In The Green Hat, they knew they had a name for DC’s own signature gin.”

And so we have Green Hat Gin.

Ian, my good buddy from high school and Northeast DC's ambassador extraordinaire, brought a bottle of this capital city gin over to my house recently. We watched a kick-ass boxing match and sipped some Green Hat on the rocks. The bottle has an urbage vintage look and a label reminiscent of a 1920s department store advertisement, complete with the batch number and handwritten alcohol content. Maybe it’s my pro-DC bias, maybe it’s my predilection for hand-crafted gin or maybe it’s my fascination with the history behind this label, but I think Green Hat Gin is special stuff.

On the Nose: The first thing I notice is a burst of lemon and Christmas tree. Classic aromas of juniper and tree sap mix with lime peel, grapefruit and a sweetness that reminds me of lavender. Basically, we’re talking about insanely complex aromas that jump out of the glass. 

I had the honor of tasting Green Hat's second batch of gin.
On the Palate: This gin is creamy and balanced, not sharp or biting in any way. It’s packed with lots of grapefruit and lemon-lime flavors, not to mention a solid dose of birch beer and pine snap. A hint of smoke lingers on the finish. The citrus balances the herbal characteristics so that no one flavor overwhelms the others.

Overall, this is a delicious gin. It’s so pure and focused, making it perfect for sipping on the rocks or using in citrus-driven cocktails. If you love gin’s unique blend of aromas and flavors, you simply have to try this stuff. If you live in or around DC, frankly, you have no excuse. We’re all familiar with the mantra of eating local and reducing our carbon footprint, so why not extend this logic to distilled spirits? I confess: there’s something inexplicably cool about sitting on my porch in DC and drinking a District-made gin, especially when it’s so damned tasty.

And Green Hat can add a new kick to classic cocktails like the gin martini, the rickey, the gimlet or a host of others. Green Hat even provides some classic and signature cocktail recipes on its site.

Apparently New Columbia doesn’t have a tasting permit yet, so they can’t pour samples from visitors. Hopefully that changes soon, because a trip to this distillery is on my DC bucket list.

Cheers to the District, to bootlegging and to gin!

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