“Looking back on it,” the Engineer said reflectively, “I realize I that when they told me about the third distillery, I was more or less doomed.”
It actually goes back a couple of years to an occasion when he picked up a magazine at the dentist’s, saw that a craft distillery had opened downtown –according to the article, the first actual distillery in DC since Prohibition — and decided to take a bike ride. When he fetched up at New Columbia Distillers, home of Green Hat Gin,* he asked for the distillery tour and was told to wait; a group would probably show up shortly. He waited. A group showed up. He followed them to a subterranean room lined with casks and found that he had joined a bottling party peopled with friends of the distillery. For an hour he filled bottles from the casks, copied the alcohol percentage onto a tax stamp, and sealed the bottles, departing at last with some of the wares at a ten per cent discount. Since then, as an avid lover of gin and tonics in the summer heat, he’s been careful not to run out. I have never been that big a gin fancier but this stuff is more like an herbal infusion, full of flowery perfumes and not suffocated in raw alcohol aromas and juniper.
So about a week back I got on their Instagram feed, on account Azahar’s friend Chantal Tseng is involved with a literary bar in another part of downtown, and was making concoctions with Green Hat gin (yes, I know this gets a little convoluted), and there was another distillery that they linked to, producing heirloom bourbon about a mile away. The Engineer likes bourbon in the winter. So he got his bike back out and headed for the premises of Jos.A. Magnus.
It was a working day for me and not till it ended did I get a call.
“I just wanted you to know I’m okay,” he said. “I’m at the third distillery. There was another distillery. One-Eight. I’m okay. I ought to be home in about an hour.”
He sounded disturbingly exhilarated. “Can you back up a little bit?” I asked.
“Ummm…. well they had a whole tasting menu at Magnus,” he said, “and after that I was still able to get to Green Hat, but after I tried the new vermouths they have and everything else really, the barman asked if I had been to One Eight. It’s another distillery. We have a distillery district. Seems like. I figured I wouldn’t be back this way in a while. They make gin. And white whiskey. It’s not bad. I should be home in an hour or so.”
I digested this. Quickly. “Are you actually okay to cycle?”
“There’s no law as far as I know against drinking and cycling –”
“I mean are you going to wipe out.”
Chastened, he said, “Well if I’m not sure I’ll take the bike on the Metro.”
Phew. “Just saying,” I pointed out, “I haven’t heard you sound like this since we were at that winery out in Leesburg in oh-eight and my client who was behind the tasting bar set us up three extra wines that weren’t on the menu, and you saw the winery cat up on the fridge and told the whole tasting bar that your mom’s cat used to do that and your mom said it’s warm and vibrates, what more could a girl want.”
(True story. The observation had fallen into one of those spontaneous silences that occurs now and then in a populous room. People edged away from us and I told him he was cut off. We had a long walk around the vineyard after. Nota bene, the Engineer’s mom is a cool babe.)
About an hour and a half later he fetched up with four bottles of liquor in his panniers, self-confessedly still slightly buzzed, having ridden the subway from downtown to the local station.
I made him document the damage while it was still fresh in his mind.
Jos. A. Magnus Distillers:
One half shot apiece vodka and signature bourbon (“$92 a bottle, gorgeous but too rich for my blood”)
A “fig ginger cocktail”
Something with gin, bitters, and a candied orange
New Columbia Distillers:
A quarter-shot apiece of
Navy Strength Gin
One Eight Distillers:
A half shot each of
2 oz of the #2 whiskey aged in Sherry Casks
… which is the point where he phoned.
Amazingly, he benched his usual the next day, with no sign of damage. I reflected that with German, Czech and Irish ancestry, the man has been genetically selected to metabolize alcohol at the rate of a small incinerator. Still, he does not propose to repeat the performance any time soon.
“I found out later there was a fourth, but all they do is vodka,” he said. “Meh.”
If you follow old Cratinus,a my learned Maecenas, no poems can please long, nor live, which are written by water-drinkers. From the moment Liber enlisted brain-sick poets among his Satyrs and Fauns, the sweet Muses, as a rule, have had a scent of wine about them in the morning. Homer, by his praises of wine, is convicted as a winebibber. Even Father Ennius never sprang forth to tell of arms save after much drinking. “To the sober I shall assign the Forum and Libo’s Well; the stern I shall debar from song.” Ever since I put forth this edict, poets have never ceased to vie in wine-drinking by night, to reek of it by day.
Horace doesn’t mention engineers, but the liberal arts were, well, more liberally interpreted in his day.
*The Green Hat story is pretty dandy. Seems there was a chap who functioned as the official bootlegger to Congress during Prohibition, importing primo stuff from offshore –no bathtub crap for our legislature — and when he had a shipment in, he would wear a green hat to report to his office in the Cannon Building (oh yes), where Congressional aides would discreetly pick the stuff up. He was busted once and treated gently through Congressional intervention, but the next time his customers let him hang out to dry, and he sang to the Washington Post for sixteen weeks leading up to Election Day, when the hypocritical Dry Congress got the boot and Roosevelt got his Congress, giving us the New Deal, so ain’t that some history???? I salute the New Columbia guys for commemorating the guy.