D.C.'s first women-owned distillery, Republic Restoratives, will open its tasting room in Ivy City on Sunday. Founders Pia Carusone and Rachel Gardner are particularly interested in producing bourbon, but for now, their first product will be Civic Vodka.
The corn-based vodka is charcoal polished—a filtration process that's meant to leave the spirit smooth and clean. For the name, Carusone says they wanted something short and crisp with a populist theme "mostly meaning the involvement of a larger network of people." After all, the distillery raised nearly $120,000 from 680 people on Indiegogo. The 80-proof spirit will have a suggested retail price of $29.
"People want something that's an all-purpose, utility-type vodka—something you can make a great martini with or put it in a bloody or sip it," Carusone says. "It's not going to be so overpowering and unique to the point of dissatisfying."
Republic Restoratives will begin production on bourbon next week, but it won't be ready for at least 18 months, if not longer. "Hopefully we can remain committed to not putting it out until we feel it's ready to be consumed," Carusone says. "There will be no white whiskies. There will be no moonshine. It will be a classically aged bourbon." The bourbon will be aged from start to finish in New American oak, 153-gallon puncheon barrels, which are typically used for wine. Republic Restoratives Master Distiller, Rusty Figgins, comes from a winemaking background. He's based in Washington state but travels regularly to D.C.
Until their own bourbon is ready, the distillery will source some whiskey from elsewhere and put their own finishes on it. It will mostly be available at the tasting room bar and for very small distribution. The distillery will also be making some cordials and possibly also gin.
"The gin market in the area is growing. It's established," Gardner says. "I think we might want to play in that space because we have some gin recipe ideas, but for now, we're going to focus on the vodka."
Republic Restoratives has hired The Sheppard and Morris bartender David Strauss, who's previously worked for Barmini and Founding Farmers, to oversee the cocktails in its tasting room. Because distilleries have to use predominantly their own spirits in any cocktails that they sell on site, expect a lot of vodka-centric drinks for now, including martinis and a Moscow mule.
The distillery will launch with a brunch party on Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Bloody marys and screwdrivers made with Civic Vodka will be available, along with biscuit sandwiches from Mason Dixie Biscuit Company, ice cream sandwiches from Milk Cult, and coffee from Compass Coffee. The distillery is planning to be open to the public Fridays through Sundays, although the exact hours are TBD.
Republic Restoratives' logo is a hand signing the letter "R" in American Sign Language. Carusone and Gardner both live in the H Street NE area. "Gallaudet [University] has been such a positive presence," Carusone says. "It was an idea we came up with to tip our hat to our neighbor and the community."
Plus, the sign doubles as "fingers crossed" gesture.
"Yeah, there's a little bit of that too," Carusone says.
Republic Restoratives, 1369 New York Ave. NE, republicrestoratives.com
Photos by Jessica Sidman