It speaks well of D.C.’s nascent distilling industry that our city is already turning out top-shelf versions of staple liquors such as vodka, gin and bourbon. But now, a few years in, our enterprising booze-makers have begun to fill in the gaps in your liquor library, turning out some more niche and even obscure bottlings. Witness the lineup of amari, fennel liqueur and limoncello at Don Ciccio & Figli. Or the rosé vermouth from Capitoline.
In the last month, two more new bottlings have been released that more adventurous drinkers will want to seek out—a robust rye from Republic Restoratives and an Cotton & Reed’s Allspice Dram. Let’s give them the old swirl, sniff and sip.
No, this isn’t the first rye—bourbon’s spicier, more assertive cousin—to come out of the District. One Eight Distilling, a few blocks away, recently debuted its Rock Creek Rye, and the new Farmers & Distillers pours a proprietary rye that’s made at Copper Fox Distillery in Virginia. But there hasn’t been much. In part, that’s because “the raw grain is a lot more expensive,” says Republic Restoratives’ co-owner, Pia Carusone.
Also, like any brown liquor, it has to age for years before it can be bottled and sold. Indeed, Republic has its own whiskey aging on its second floor. But until that’s ready, they’ve taken to “sourcing” their rye from other distilleries and finishing it in DC. (Yes, this is fairly common, and no, it’s not that controversial, as long as a distillery is upfront about it.)
Here, they acquired and blended a 3 ½-year-old and a one-year-old rye and then aged it again for 11 months—some in American oak, some in French oak that used to age their bourbon (and, before that, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc). Finally, they added the coup de grace, using water from co-owner Rachel Gardner’s family farm in upstate New York to bring it down to 90 proof. (That water also provided another nod to the whiskey’s namesake, the former senator from New York.)
It delivers plenty of peppercorn heat up front, then some pleasant vanilla character from the wood. It finishes long, with lots of cinnamon and baking spices. Try it in a Sazerac at their bar, where the sugar tames some of its spicy edges.
Cotton & Reed Allspice Dram
If you’ve ever had allspice dram, it was likely at a tiki bar, or in a tiki drink. It was also probably St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram, originally a Jamaican product, which has long been the go-to option for tiki ‘tenders. Often the only option.
Working from Cotton & Reed’s Union Market distillery, head barman Lukas Smith set out to change that. “What we wanted to do was make something with more versatility” than St. Elizabeth’s, says Cotton & Reed’s head barman, while creating something that would play well with the distillery’s core rums.
So well, in fact, that it starts with a white rum base made from the same Louisiana molasses. And while St. Elizabeth’s is flavored solely with allspice berries, Smith concocted a blend of 11 botanicals, including black pepper, gentian root, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, licorice root and even dried fermented limes for acidity. “What I did was make an amaro-style cordial,” says Smith.
Stick your nose in the glass. If you get a huge whiff of gingersnap cookies, you’re not alone. Taste it, and it starts out bitter and pungent before the viscous, brown-sugar sweetness kicks in.
It’s intense stuff, which makes it better served in a cocktail for most drinkers. Try the White Lion at Cotton & Reed’s bar, with white rum, lime, sugar and the dram.