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I got pretty excited about the idea of a biodiesel plant and medical marijuana cultivation centers coming to the city’s dwindling industrial areas. Much has also been made about the brewing now underway at Chocolate City Beer and D.C. Brau. Now, another use for an old industrial building: A District-based team is about to start work on a new gin and whiskey distillery at 1832 Fenwick Street NE, right behind the Crummell School and Love Nightclub.
Originally, John Uselton actually wanted to start a brewery as well. A beer buyer for Schneider’s on Capitol Hill, he’d kicked around the idea for years—-but then saw the other companies launch, and decided to go in a different direction with Michael Lowe, his retired father-in-law. They’d been getting into cocktails, and learned the ropes of gin and whiskey production through an internship in Washington state (it’s apparently all the rage these days). Finally, they leased their warehouse—-currently occupied by a wine distributor that’s relocating within the District—-and got their interior demolition permit last month.
There are a few more steps in the process. According to Uselton, although his distillery will be the first in the District in 100 years, liquor production has always been legal (other than, you know, the whole Prohibition thing). But he’d also like to host tastings and sell the product on-site, which will require a quick legislative fix, just like the beer breweries accomplished last year. They hope to have gin for sale by this summer, while aging whiskey for later.
Contra Matt Yglesias, I think this illustrates the benefit of protecting these kinds of industrial spaces through zoning. Business diversity is valuable, and so is buying locally, and understanding how things are made. Plus, many businesses in the retail core need distribution facilities. You might say that those benefits should be able to compete in the real estate market against other uses, like housing. But small startups would have a hard time beating out big housing developers, if both wanted the same piece of land. Sure, it would be lovely to have acres of warehouses we don’t need anymore that could be converted into beautiful loft apartments. But we don’t, and it looks like new industries are now coming forward up to fill them.