THIS IS NOT A DRILL. There’s a brand spankin’ new distillery on 14th and U Street and it is a game changer.
At a private media preview on Tuesday, I had the good fortune of meeting the gracious staff and head distiller of District Distilling Co., DC’s first distillery/pub combo.
For months, the exterior of 1414-1418 U St has been cloaked in opaque construction sheets and scaffolding, but now the two stories of windows allow a peek into the distillery that will soon be producing gin, vodka, white rum, and blended whiskey alike. Head Distiller Matt Strickland comes to us from Nashville, Tennessee where he’s been immersed in creative distilling for the last several years. Matt projects the first release of the spirits to occur around October 1, but in the meantime, District Distilling Co. welcomes patrons for sophisticated pub fare and killer cocktails, opening to the public on Friday, August 26.
On Tuesday, we began the evening with cocktail hour and a distillery tour on the ground level. I sipped the Vicinage, one of their starter cocktails, and munched on roasted pecans and popcorn as I perused the first floor.
After chatting with Matt, we were escorted to our table upstairs. The second floor dining room is a massive, brick-enclosed loft with multiple rooms and a sprawling central bar. One of the copper stills from downstairs towers over the second floor bar area behind french doors, creating a beautiful industrial aesthetic.
Our server, Hannah, knew the menu inside and out, so instead of picking and choosing dishes from the menu ourselves, we left the ordering entirely in her hands. We regretted nothing.
To begin, we ordered three cocktails from the Signature Drink list, which is comprised of intricate, adventurous cocktails created by the bar staff. They also have an extensive Classic Cocktail list, which includes favorites such as the French 75, Whiskey Sour, Bonded Manhattan and Negroni. When in doubt, I always fall back into my bourbon comfort zone, so I ordered the Rickhouse. Callie is also a bourbon-phile, but we wanted to try different things, so she opted for the Tradition (gin-based). Frank went off the rails and ordered the Cinder – arguably the deadliest Tiki cocktail on the menu. “This cocktail . . . it is very boozy,” Hannah warned.
All three cocktails were delicious, but the Tradition was actually my favorite – surprising, considering I usually loathe gin. The Tradition is made with an expert blend of cucumber, lime, egg white, and black lava salt that smoothed out the sting of the gin and resulted in a velvety, light cocktail.
For our appetizers, Hannah chose the Whiskey Rubbed Smoked Salmon, Crispy Oyster Steam Buns, and Chicken Fried Alabama Bucket Steak. I’ve always been wary of chicken fried steak (not a common dish in my home state of Massachusetts), but the cut of meat was extremely tender and paired perfectly with their green goddess sauce. The table favorite may have been the fried oyster steamed buns, which came with jalapenos and a spicy chili aioli.
The appetizers were light and tasty, which put us in the perfect state to move on to the main courses.
WOW. The main courses. Between the three of us, we sampled the Crispy Skin Suckling Pig, Ratatouille, Roasted Cauliflower & Broccoli, and Grilled Rockfish. After much discussion, we all agreed that despite none of us being vegetarian, we would all order the Ratatouille Pie as our main entree. The crust was buttery, flaky, and clearly made on the very same day it was served.
The Rockfish was a close second for me. The fish itself was fresh and grilled to perfection. It was served atop a smoked bluefish cake and a bed of creamed summer corn and cherry tomatoes. The smoked bluefish really made the meal a stand-out, and was frankly tastier than any crab cake I’ve had in recent memory.
We ended the meal with far too many desserts, including the crème brûlée donut, bourbon pecan pie, and hot milk sponge cake. The pecan pie was outrageously delicious and the pecans tasted like they had been roasted prior to baking. To be honest, I was little too full to enjoy the remaining desserts, but next time I will make a point of saving some room.
As DC’s first joint kitchen/bar/distillery, District Distilling Co. is truly bringing something new to the U Street Corridor neighborhood. My advice is to get in while you can; it won’t be long before the DC masses catch on to this gem.