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The next time you raise a tangy, refreshing gin Rickey to your lips, be sure to toast Michael Lowe and John Uselton for bringing the most D.C. of beverages full circle.
For while they can’t lay claim to the resurgent 19th-century cooler, the co-founders of New Columbia Distillers have developed a homegrown spirit — the slyly named Green Hat gin — infused with a delicious slice of Washington history.
According to Uselton, their potent potable is a tip of the hat to George L. Cassiday, the intrepid bootlegger who kept both chambers of Congress in social lubricant for most of the Prohibition era. Uselton first learned of Cassiday’s Capitol-based operation after devouring Garrett Peck’s “Prohibition in Washington, DC: How Dry We Weren’t.”
While he and Lowe had pre-emptively decided to enshrine their hope for D.C. statehood in the distillery’s name (hence New Columbia), the pair suddenly found themselves enamored with Cassiday’s moxie. They decided, rather nervously, to approach his son, Fairfax, Va., resident George L. Cassiday, about allowing them to perpetuate the family’s legacy with their then purely conceptual product.
“To us it is almost the same as calling it George Cassiday’s gin,” Uselton said of the homage.
The parties huddled at Cassiday’s home in 2011 for a beer summit and managed to hash out an amicable agreement.
“He was really excited about it,” Uselton said of receiving Cassiday’s official blessing. The only caveat: Cassiday requested the first case from the first batch of gin — a demand the New Columbia proprietors gladly made good on earlier this year.Still Born
Lowe said the idea to create a D.C.-based distillery was hatched in late 2010; they officially incorporated in March 2011.
Along the way, Lowe broadened his knowledge base by participating in an artisan distilling weekend workshop offered at Cornell University, while he and Uselton both partook of a crash-course in the mechanics of spirits-making that same summer at Dry Fly Distillery in Spokane, Wash.
New Columbia officially came online on Aug. 30, 2012. The nascent distillers dedicated September to recipe development, a process that would ultimately entail shelving eight preliminary efforts.
“There were a couple of those batches that went off one direction or another . . . but basically we were able to pull it together and we’re very pleased with what we ended up with,” Lowe said.
Rather than replicate what’s already out there, Uselton said, they set their sights on creating a gin with more “earthy qualities” — a signature of the neo-“American dry” style.