By Hope Nelson
Drive east on New York Avenue to Ivy City—the formerly industrial northeast neighborhood enjoying a great –resurgence —and it’s easy to miss the bustle of activity at the intersection with Fenwick Street, adjacent to the old Hecht’s warehouse. But turn the corner and peer behind the glass-and-wood façade, behind the large garage-door-like window that opens upward to let in fresh air on pretty days, and see a new republic taking root.
Here lies Republic Restoratives, the first women-owned distillery in the DC area.
The distillery, which is currently selling vodka and has just released its first bourbon, was a long time coming, says Pia Carusone, co-founder with Rachel Gardner. “It was a loose thought for maybe eight years, but about 2011 we got serious about it,” Carusone said. One crowdfunding campaign and a storefront renovation later, Republic Restoratives opened this past Mother’s Day.
“We love the neighborhood,” Carusone says. “It’s amazing.” The company was one of the first to sign a lease in what was a mostly derelict area of warehouses and with plenty of nods to the local vernacular takes its responsibility to the neighborhood seriously. Republic Restoratives’ brand logo—what appears at first glance to be a pair of crossed fingers—is actually the American Sign Language sign for the letter R, an homage to nearby Gallaudet University.
Careful planning has left Carusone and Gardner in good start-up mode. The interior space is pleasing to the eye—from the glass- and woodwork throughout the tasting room to the distillery itself, a huge room with gleaming silver stills as showpieces. The upstairs barrel room houses the first batch of Borough Bourbon, sourced from a Kentucky distillery, now aging in pristine French wine barrels. The space is welcoming, homey in an unexpected way in this combination workspace and laboratory.
“It’s a super-open layout because we wanted the facility to be really flexible in how we’re set up,” Carusone says. “So when we designed our operations here, we made equipment decisions that were going to be more than sufficient for our current need, but would also allow us to grow. We asked a bunch of distillers when we started, ‘What are your biggest regrets?’ and the one we heard over and over again was, ‘The still is too small. We wish we had bought a bigger still.’ And so we invested in one of the biggest stills in the region—far larger than we need right now, but again, we’re not going to have to replace it for a while.”
The distillery’s aesthetic only serves to enhance libations worth the price of admission. For DC’s cocktail-savvy, both the Civic Vodka and the Borough Bourbon hold up to careful scrutiny—alone or in cocktails.
The Civic is a silky-smooth vodka that lacks the burn of so many of its brethren and pairs quite nicely with a variety of mixers. The Borough’s stint in wine barrels brings about a spiciness with each sip.
The city is responding. More than 100 restaurants and bars now carry Civic, Carusone says, and Republic Restoratives is looking to expand its reach into Maryland and Virginia as soon as the bureaucratic world of alcohol distribution allows.
“This is the first time we’ve done this, so we didn’t have a ton of expectations, but we’re growing enough that we’re busy. Every day feels like we’re so busy, which is great,” Carusone says. “… We’re expanding. People are calling and asking for us. The word is out about the vodka; it’s delicious, people love it, and it’s priced fairly affordably.”
That’s reason enough to lift a glass.
Republic Restoratives, 1369 New York Ave. NE. For tasting room hours, distillery tours or to sign up for a private tour and tasting, go to republicrestoratives.com.