D.C.'s latest booze producer, Jos. A. Magnus & Co., aims to resurrect the legacy of pre-Prohibition distiller Joseph A. Magnus. Nearly a century after Magnus stopped distilling, his great-grandson Jimmy Turner, in partnership with a "dream team" of spirit pros, will officially open a gin and bourbon operation in Ivy City on Saturday.
The distillery will offer tastes of gin during tours as well as gin cocktails in its tasting room from 1 to 9 p.m. tomorrow. Guests can pre-order bottles of gin and bourbon at the distillery or by signing up for the mailing list online, but they won't be available until the grand opening on Sept. 12. (Bourbon won't be available in the tasting room until the grand opening either.)
After climbing a flight of stairs above Atlas Brew Works, guests will first enter a big hall called the Magnus Room with long tables seating about 40 and a view of Mount Olivet Cemetery. In addition to serving pitchers of cocktails, the Magnus Room will also serve as a museum of sorts with original bottles and other artifacts from Magnus. From the Magnus Room, people can also check-in for a tour of the distillery or to secure a spot in the Murray Hill Club, a more intimate tasting room and cocktail lounge with a copper-topped bar, leather sofas, and view of the stills.
The bourbon, dubbed Joseph Magnus Bourbon, is inspired by an original Joseph A. Magnus recipe. (More on that in next week's Y&H column.) The distillery obviously hasn't been around long enough to properly age whiskey itself, so the team sourced eight-year-old bourbon from Indiana. For the last five months, they've been finishing it in Oloroso sherry, Ximenez sherry, and Cognac barrels, which will be blended together.
The inaugural bourbon batch will be limited to about 750 special-edition bottles (fashioned to look similar to the historic Magnus bottles). The bourbon is $92 in honor of 1892, the year the original Magnus brand was founded. Partner Brett Thompson (also a co-founder of Pork Barrel BBQ) says more than 300 bottles have already been pre-sold, and he expects the rest will go fast. Anything left over will make its way to restaurants, bars, and select retailers. Another batch will come later this fall.
Former Gin Joint at New Heights bartender Nicole Hassoun is both distilling the gin and overseeing the cocktail menu at Murray Hill Club. Her inaugural gin ($32, with the first run sold in limited edition bottles) will have a balance between citrus and spice with botanicals like cubeb pepper, bergamot orange, oroblanco grapefruit plus a za'atar blend with thyme, sumac, and sesame (a nod to her Lebanese roots). "Eventually we will have something pretty and gentle and floral, but right now, it's a perfect martini gin," Hassoun says. The gin will be called Vigilante, after one of Magnus' pre-Prohibition products, although they're not sure if the original Vigilante was a gin or whiskey.
Expect a lot of limited release spirits going forward, including single-barrel offerings with 240 bottles tops. "Once they're there, they're gone," Thompson says. For gin, Hassoun can potentially turn around a small batch in just five and a half hours. “If she wakes up one morning and thinks of a navy strength gin that she thinks is going to go with the cocktails that we’ll be serving that weekend, she can actually go to our gin still right here and make it,” Thompson says.
Hassoun is still finalizing her cocktail menu, which will have a limited selection. "Really I prefer to say, 'What do you feel like right now? Are you citrus, spice, herbal, floral? Are we doing up or on the rocks?'" Hassoun says. "I prefer to just do something weird, do something you haven't tasted."
Eventually, Hassoun plans to unveil some more "experimental" cocktails like spherified tonic and citrus dropped in gin. "My liquid nitrogen guy came in yesterday, so we'll be doing some cool things with that," she adds.
The tasting room will be open Saturday only this weekend from 1 to 9 p.m. Going forward, it will be open Friday through Sunday from 1 to 9 p.m.
Jos. A. Magnus & Co., 2052 West Virginia Ave. NE, #202; josephmagnus.com
Photos by Darrow Montgomery