What Does It Take to Make Real Craft Gin?

Tour the Green Hat Gin distillery in Washington, D.C., with bartender Matt Ficke

More

"It’s a little-known fact, but you don’t actually need a still to call yourself a distiller," Wayne Curtis writes in this month's issue of The Atlantic. "Craft" and "local" are often more marketing spin than accurate descriptions of what's in the bottle. Many start-up businesses don't have the resources to make booze from scratch so they buy generic neutral grain spirits from big suppliers and call the final blend a local product. Curtis describes the growing rift in the industry:

The hard-core, “grain to glass” distillers grow their own grain and do their own distilling, blending, aging, and bottling. That’s an expensive way to make a bottle of liquor, and the product is priced accordingly. So, understandably, they get a bit grumpy when competitors buy alcohol by the railcar and then repackage it as a “vodka handcrafted in Brooklyn” or a “Texas blended whiskey.”

To find out what it really takes to make craft liquor, we reached out to New Columbia Distillers, a bona fide grain-to-glass operation in northeast Washington, D.C. They bottled their first batch of Green Hat Gin last fall and have a hit on their hands, thanks to D.C.'s thriving restaurant and bar scene. John Uselton, who runs the distillery with his father-in-law Michael Lowe, spent an afternoon showing us the labor-intensive process behind their signature product. 

Matt Ficke, the head bartender at The Passenger's Columbia Room, came along for the tour and capped it off by mixing us a drink with Green Hat's new summer blend (its ingredients include cherry blossoms!). Fittingly Ficke made the official cocktail of D.C. -- a gin Rickey -- also known as "air conditioning in a glass."

Read "When That 'Local,' 'Craft' Liquor You Pay Big Bucks for Is Neither" in the June 2013 Atlantic

Jump to comments

Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg joined The Atlantic in 2011 to launch its video channel and, in 2013, create its in-house video production department. She leads the development and production of original documentaries, interviews, and other video content for The Atlantic. Previously, she worked as a producer at Al Gore’s Current TV and as a content strategist and documentary producer in San Francisco. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University.
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

The Time JFK Called the Air Force to Complain About a 'Silly Bastard'

51 years ago, President John F. Kennedy made a very angry phone call.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Video

Just In