Housing Complex

More Life for Old Warehouses: Distillery Coming to Ivy City

Booze coming here.

I got pretty excited about the idea of a biodiesel plant and medical marijuana cultivation centers coming to the city's dwindling industrial areas. Much has also been made about the brewing now underway at Chocolate City Beer and D.C. Brau. Now, another use for an old industrial building: A District-based team is about to start work on a new gin and whiskey distillery at 1832 Fenwick Street NE, right behind the Crummell School and Love Nightclub.

Originally, John Uselton actually wanted to start a brewery as well. A beer buyer for Schneider's on Capitol Hill, he'd kicked around the idea for years—but then saw the other companies launch, and decided to go in a different direction with Michael Lowe, his retired father-in-law. They'd been getting into cocktails, and learned the ropes of gin and whiskey production through an internship in Washington state (it's apparently all the rage these days). Finally, they leased their warehouse—currently occupied by a wine distributor that's relocating within the District—and got their interior demolition permit last month.

There are a few more steps in the process. According to Uselton, although his distillery will be the first in the District in 100 years, liquor production has always been legal (other than, you know, the whole Prohibition thing). But he'd also like to host tastings and sell the product on-site, which will require a quick legislative fix, just like the beer breweries accomplished last year. They hope to have gin for sale by this summer, while aging whiskey for later.

Contra Matt Yglesias, I think this illustrates the benefit of protecting these kinds of industrial spaces through zoning. Business diversity is valuable, and so is buying locally, and understanding how things are made. Plus, many businesses in the retail core need distribution facilities. You might say that those benefits should be able to compete in the real estate market against other uses, like housing. But small startups would have a hard time beating out big housing developers, if both wanted the same piece of land. Sure, it would be lovely to have acres of warehouses we don't need anymore that could be converted into beautiful loft apartments. But we don't, and it looks like new industries are now coming forward up to fill them.

  • TM

    "liquor production has always been legal"

    Even during prohibition?

  • Lydia DePillis

    I mean yeah, except for when it was illegal everywhere.

  • http://twitter.com/elcolin Colin

    Why is buying locally important?

  • TM

    Actually, that wasn't meant to be a snarky question. It was still legal to buy alcohol for "medicinal" purposes then. Just thought you might be saying that DC was one place you could make said medicinal alcohol. Would make for an interesting parallel to the med pot connection.

  • Jim Ed

    Considering all the drunks and winos that seem to live at the corner of New York and Okie, this place better have security like Ft Knox.

    In all seriousness, this is cool. Is this going to be a micro distillery, or can we expect to see their product readily available throughout the area liquor stores?

  • Pingback: Bring On The Botanicals! D.C. Distillery Aims To Make Gin By Summer - Young & Hungry

  • Michael Lowe

    We will be a micro-distillery (aka craft distillery, artisanal distillery), but hope to be able to distribute our gin (and eventually whiskey) throughout the metro area and beyond. We're working on getting authority to sell our products out of the distillery, but we'll mostly be distributed through liquor stores.

  • The AMT

    You guys should see about selling some of your whiskey unaged/white - I'd be interested to see a series of the same whiskey at various points in the aging process.

  • jc

    let's lift the height restrictions, then you'll have plenty of space. also, i think if there are benefits to buying locally, then businesses should sell consumers on those benefits, not zoning boards.

  • LMeecham

    Hey Mike Lowe, when are you going to start hiring?

  • http://blogs.forbes.com/stephensmith Stephen Smith

    This site is way too far from transit to be of any kind of use to residential developers. The real industrial vs. residential debate should be about the nearby Florida Market.

    One problem I have with your argument is that you don't make any attempt to balance the competing interests. Yes, industrial space is nice for all the reasons you outlined, but why is it better than residential space? Matt and I have a quantitative argument - it's better because someone's willing to pay more for it – while you just have a vague qualitative one. (I'd also note that this seems to be a rare spot of development in an industrial zone that is otherwise pretty moribund. Surely one small distributer on ten acres of land is not worth the other 95% that's still vacant.)

    Also, it explains too much – if cheap industrial land is good for the city, then why not turn pre-existing undeveloped residential land into industrial land? If you can't answer this question with anything other than "that's the way it's always been" (and the old arguments about being next to railyards or docks no longer hold water since those modes of transport, at least in DC, have been almost totally eviscerated), it just seems like status quo bias.

  • http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com Richard Layman

    sorry that's "guilty of not balancing the competing interests."

  • Mark

    I'd rather live over there. Why can't DC get a real loft district going akin to Soho & Tribeca in the late 70s?

    Oh, those were artists. DC is just full of precious yuppie lawyers.

  • http://distcurm.blogspot.com/ IMGoph

    So, qualitative science is totally bunk, and only quantitative science matters? Got it.