Sign of the Times: One Eight Distillery in Washington, D.C.
Despite being in a seemingly endless state of developmental ebb and flow, one thing remains constant in the District of Columbia: its love for hard alcohol. According to 2014 data on consumption from the Beer Institute, the district ranks behind only New Hampshire and Delaware in terms of how many shots of hard alcohol are consumed per capita per day (a paltry 0.95). It should come as no surprise then that the district is currently in the midst of a localized liquor distillation renaissance. Following the path forged by New Columbia Distillers (the distillery responsible for Green Hat Gin) in 2011, One Eight Distillery, which is located in the district’s Ivy City neighborhood, is gaining recognition for its small batch gin, vodka, and most interestingly, whiskey.
Molotov Cocktail Editor Alex Hecht and I visited One Eight Distillery on July 25 to check out their latest creation, Untitled Whiskey No.2, a Tennessee whiskey finished in sherry barrels. Priced at $48 for a 750ml bottle or $17 for a 200 ml bottle, the Untitled No. 2 is, in my opinion, on the pricier side of Tennessee whiskeys being sold. That said, the prices of Untitled No. 2 and One Eight’s other liquors are easily justified when considering that you’re buying from your local distillery. Being able to visit the facility and talk to the distillers about their production process, while also supporting a local business, definitely adds value to One Eight’s products. Additionally, One Eight’s whiskeys run in limited batches — prior to Untitled No. 2, One Eight released Untitled No. 1, an eight-year high rye bourbon also finished in sherry barrels. Whether these value propositions justify the price of One Eight’s Untitled No. 2 is ultimately up to you.
Price notwithstanding, Untitled No. 2 is quite good. All of the familiar taste characteristics of Tennessee whiskey are on display — vanilla and caramel flavors are underscored by refined mellowness, which is a direct result of the Lincoln County Process (steeping or filtering through charcoal). Moreover, the whiskey’s flavors are multi-dimensional and composed in such a way that each sip is followed by a multi-sensory experience. The heat of the 92-proof spirit intentionally overwhelms the taste buds, only to set the stage for a mellow middle in which the sweetness of the whiskey complements its high proof. The flavor is further focused by its aging (prior to receipt by One Eight) in new American oak barrels.
Rounding out the sensory experience, the back end has notes of spice, raisins, prunes, and dates, which most likely come from its finishing in sherry barrels. This finish added the perfect contrast to the whiskey’s refined mellowness.
It must be noted that One Eight does not produce the Tennessee whiskey it uses for the Untitled No. 2. Instead, the whiskey is bought from an external provider. However, the sherry barrel finishing is done on site. The fact that the actual whiskey is not locally produced should come as no surprise — Tennessee whiskey must be aged a minimum of two years, and One Eight Distillery only opened on January 8 of this year. One Eight head distiller Alex Laufer was quick to point out that despite the whiskey being sourced from elsewhere, the true distinction for One Eight’s whiskey was in its finishing. Based on my experience, Mr. Laufer’s point rings especially true.
The overall taste profile of Untitled No. 2 can be defined in one word — curated. Every flavor, and the manner in which they developed, had purpose and was intentional. Though I am no whiskey aficionado, I feel that any whiskey worth my money should provide me with an experience that no other liquor can provide. Additionally, a whiskey at the price point of Untitled No. 2 should not only give me the traditional characteristics of a Tennessee whiskey, but also use those well-known traits to form the foundation of something new. The intersection of sherry notes was unexpected but welcome. Importantly, it emphasized the sort of attention to detail One Eight is trying to base its success on.
Untitled No. 2 represents a successful attempt by One Eight to introduce a unique product to a primed market. Though I am slightly worried about the price point of One Eight’s spirits, the quality and sense of adventure in each sip of Untitled No. 2 fills me with hope and optimism for One Eight’s long-term success. I can only expect that they will continue their success, and I hope to be there along the way.
Ruben Gzirian is a pursuer of fine whiskeys, with Michter’s US*1 American Whiskey currently his favorite. He holds an MA from the Monterey Institute of International Studies and enjoys reading World War II history, with a focus on the Eastern Front.