One Eight runs its distilling operations Monday through Friday and hosts guest tours on Saturday. I tagged along for one of the weekend tours.
The name One Eight refers to Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, which established the nation’s capital. The stills made their first runs December 2015, so they had only been operating a couple months when I visited. One Eight is located in a structure the city’s Northeast that used to be a wholesale warehouse. The front door led into a spacious tasting room with a polished concrete floor and a bar.
As guests wait for their tours to begin, One Eight employees behind the bar divvied out one-ounce pours of the two products now available for purchase: Rock Creek Whiskey and District Made Vodka. More on the products later.
I was lucky enough to have a tour guided by co-owner Sandy Wood. The tour of the facility started with the grist mill, around which one-ton bags of corn and rye were stored. Rock Creek White Whiskey – a white dog offering – had a mash bill of roughly 85% rye (malted and unmalted) and 15% corn. District Made Vodka is mostly corn with a bit of rye. Wood said he acquired the corn and most of rye used to make both Rock Creek and District Made from a local farmer within the District-Maryland-Virginia area. The malted rye was shipped from out-of-state.
Distillers’ yeast is used to ferment Rock Creek while turbo-vodka yeast is used for District Made. For the product of Rock Creek, the distiller’s beer is run through a copper pot still after fermentation. Wood said he bought the equipment from a distillery in Chicago. The previous owner had outgrown them and upgraded to more industrial equipment that allowed for greater output. Still, One Eight’s copper gleans like new and must’ve cost quite a bit to acquire and transport. They didn’t seem to cut any corners. The operation is quite impressive.
In addition to vodka and whiskey, One Eight hopes to release a gin offering soon. Ivy City Gin will have a nearly identical mash bill to their vodka and will be a redistilled product in a special steel still that houses a gin-head. Distillery employees are still fine-tuning the botanical recipe, however, and allowed guests to nose the small steel vessels that held various experimental distillates.
Aromatic as those gin projects were, the real treat was the section of the warehouse that served as rack house. Despite being only months old, One Eight’s racks held nine-year bourbon whiskey barrels acquired from the Midwest Grains Products. MGP is well known for being the distillery where many Craft products – from Templeton Rye to (allegedly) Bulleit Bourbon – were distilled. In addition, there were two larger and much older used Oloroso Sherry butts filled with sourced bourbon and Tennessee whiskey. There were a number of brand-new small casks and 53-gallon barrels as well. The variety of casks and the fact that Wood and company had the foresight to wait before bottling these products signaled that they had either done their research or have taken some advice from someone who knows what they’re doing.
After inhaling the heavenly aromas coming from those barrels, I hope I’m around to taste whatever offering they decide to create with them.
I have a huge amount of respect for Wood and his co-partner Alex Laufer. The stones it takes to quit a good-paying, secure job – as a lawyer no less – and to front the capital needed to start a distillery from scratch is tremendous. Sure we’re in the midst of a bourbon Renaissance right now, but the spirits industry has always been volatile.
The fact that these guys seem to be doing everything the hard way means that I’m going to be following their journey very closely. It’s great to have a local distillery located right on the other side of Rock Creek Park from me to root for. Listening to Wood speak about upcoming projects and collaborations certainly gave me a reason to follow-up.
One Eight is the second micro-distillery to open in the District of Columbia. A few years ago New Columbia Distillers opened and released Green Hat Gin.
Note: This post was updated on 3/27 to include additional production details.