Photos by Sarah Gerrity, words by Kaylee Dugan
District Distilling has good bones. The restaurant / full bar / real live distillery looked great when visited back in August and it wasn’t even finished yet. Sure, the aforementioned bar and restaurant were almost up and running, but the most important part of this whole project, the booze, wasn’t finished. Yes, you could go a get a damn good meal at a wildly convenient location, but when you ordered a craft cocktail, what you got wasn’t the stuff that was being made downstairs.
You don’t have to worry about that anymore. District Distilling’s rum, vodka, blended whiskey, and gin are not only in the cocktails, but they’re also available for purchase on site and off. We met up with head distiller Matt Strickland to taste the spirits (and eat too much food from their dinner menu). Until his move to D.C., Strickland was making whiskey for Corsair Artisan Distillery in Tennessee, meaning he’d never actually tried making vodka, rum, or gin.
Despite that, Strickland knew exactly what he wanted to do with them. He was disappointed with the medicinal taste of most vodkas on the market and instead aimed for something that was a little thicker and had a touch of vanilla. Strickland was especially excited about crafting a rum, choosing to use ingredients that would have been available when rum was at its peak in the 17th and 18th centuries, like Old English yeast. The result is something almost floral upfront with a sweet and lovely back end. His gin is forward in a good way, you don’t have to get too close to the glass to smell it. The spirit is almost herbaceous in a way that’s similar to Hendricks, but without all of the rose and cucumber. Finally, his bourbon is a secret blend of two different distilleries (they’re still waiting for their own to age). Strickland explains that he wanted to create something that was a little less oaky and a little more sweet. He’s succeeded. I don’t usually enjoy bourbon straight, but I could drink this bourbon straight without a fuss.
I was lucky enough to try some of his own bourbon before it went into the barrels. The white whiskey had only been pulled out of the stills twenty minutes ago, so it was boozy and hot as hell. I’m not a child, I’ve been drinking for a minute, and as one of BYT’s food and beverage writes, I’ve had my fair share of alcohol, but I’ve never taste something quite like this. I gave my self a personal challenge to finish the shot sized portion I was given, and I just barely managed to get it all down.
We’ve talked about the food at District Distilling before, but we were able to try some things we didn’t get around to the first time. We ate a lot of food. Like, more food than I have ever eaten at one time. So much food that I was still full the next morning. Everything I’ve tried on District Distillings menu was quality, so I really don’t think you can go wrong here, but here are my own, personal highlights. First, whatever you do, you need to get the buttermilk fried chicken biscuit. For $7 you get a good hunk of flakey biscuit and succulent chicken. Stoner Apiary honey is served on the side for dunking or pouring, as are a little jar of pickles. I can’t begin to explain how good it is. It’s simple and perfect in execution. If seafood is more your game, the crispy Eastern Shore oyster steamed buns are very good. The oysters are quality, the bun is soft and chewy, an the chili garlic aioli gives it a needed kick… but it’s not quit at the level of the chicken biscuit.
Maybe you have a voracious appetite and want a larger plate as well? Look no further than the Double D Burger. It’s inclusion of hickory bacon gives the entire burger a smokey, BBQ flavor that kills it. I’m a burger snob and I would happily down one of these again. If you want a large plate to share, the pork shoulder poutine is A+. With smoked pork shoulder, salty curly fries, bourbon gravy, and fried cheese curds, it hits all the flavors you need when you’re drunk. I also sampled the shrimp and grits. I never order grits when I go out, because no one on this beautiful planet can beat my moms recipe, but these were pretty solid. A good amount of cheese to grit ratio. Well cooked shrimp. I like my grits to be a little more firm and a little less watery, but that’s all a matter of personal preference.
For dessert, we tried a series of things, but my absolute favorite was the pecan pie. You need it. You just do.