Locally made sprits are growing in popularity in the DC metro area. Not only have these new additions to cocktail bars and liquor stores given connoisseurs new flavors, but they have also helped to boost economic development and created many new jobs. One Eight Distilling opened its doors in Northeast DC in early 2015, and its three products—District Made Vodka, Rock Creek White Whiskey and, the newest release, Ivy City Gin—can now be found on shelves all over the District.
One Eight’s focus is rye, a grain very typical of the mid-Atlantic region and the base of most local whiskies during the early days of the country. In addition to rye, One Eight also incorporates corn and wheat, and all its grains are grown using organic methods on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. A small amount of malted rye adds a flavor twist.
Before getting into distilling, owner Alex Laufer (pictured above) spent his professional career in the biotech field, including over a decade in San Francisco, working and managing labs in pharmaceutical drug development, DNA sequencing and genomics production and research. His family moved to New York for a few years and eventually to the DC area, where he worked in the same biotech field at a lab in Rockville, Maryland.
Laufer, whose father was born in Mandatory Palestine, grew up cooking with his mother in Newton, Massachusetts. Later, the food culture and diverse array of ingredients available in San Francisco fueled his passion for cooking and led him to a brief stint in catering there. Though it was hard work and he made very little money doing it, he says it was a lot of fun.
Longtime spirits enthusiasts, Laufer and his One Eight CEO and co-founder Sandy Wood met in college. Several years ago they saw the growing change in the craft food and beverage world and thought it would be a great opportunity to start a business with a satisfying product they enjoyed making. The timing was right in Laufer’s professional life, as he had been teaching in Montgomery County schools and at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School and was considering a full-time switch to a career in education.
The first several months were spent experimenting, tasting and interning at distilleries around the country to learn the business. They found the right location in DC for the distillery in mid 2013, began construction and were able to start distilling in late 2014. They opened their doors to the public in early 2015.
Before the distillery opened, Laufer showcased One Eight’s products at Jewish events with other local producers, including a charity auction at a local synagogue with New Columbia Distillers, the makers of Green Hat Gin, and the brewers DC Brau. They also poured with other local distilleries, including Catoctin Creek Distilling Company, at a pre-Passover Whiskeyfest-style event for hundreds of attendees at a suburban Maryland synagogue.
Laufer himself is a member of Washington, DC’s conservative Tifereth Israel on 16th Street, NW, where he participates in Men’s Club events, including a BBQ and Bourbon event in the Sukkah, and his children attend the synagogue’s extracurricular Hebrew school.
The future looks tasty for One Eight. In July, the distillery released its Ivy City Gin, an American Dry-style gin, just in time to celebrate Rickey month. Created here in DC, the Gin Rickey is the city’s official cocktail, with bar competitions held throughout the early summer, but for those who missed it, One Eight’s Ivy City Gin is available at the distillery, which is open to the public on Saturday afternoons and by appointment, and at shops, bars and restaurants around town. One Eight also holds regular tastings at area liquor stores and participates in local food and drink events, which are listed on its website.
One Eight Distilling, 202-636-ONE8 (6638), 1135 Okie Street, NE, Washington, DC, Open to the public Saturday 1–4 pm and by appointment.