A Day in the Life of…New Columbia Distillery a.k.a Home of Green Hat Gin
09 05 by Stephanie Gibney
Can you imagine what it’s like to own a gin distillery? In my mind I’m assuming they drink gin all day. I’m envisioning the owner’s offices have the Rickey on tap. After looking at the website I also determine the owners probably wear top hats and suits. I think everyone should talk like the mob in those old school movies. I’m also thinking every employee is immediately given a cool nickname upon hire. Things like Mugsy and Slim. I need a cool nickname….
I’m actually quite familiar with the product. I became a fan of Green Hat after reading about the distillery opening in the Washingtonian magazine and how in celebration of DC Prohibition Day they were having a tasting on a Wednesday at 1 pm. Obviously this proved my theory….they drink gin all day. At the time I didn’t particularly like gin (I do now, but only Green Hat, it appears my problem was with cheap gin), but decided to go check it out anyway since I like to support local businesses. I ended up being the only person at the time I arrived and was able to talk to both owners, Mike and John who were extremely friendly, knowledgeable and NOT AT ALL DRUNK.
Damn, I thought, I must have gone on the wrong day. Over several months during tax season I would come back to how it must be the most glorious job ever, owning a distillery; and how if I ever did something else I too would own a distillery (rum in case you’re wondering). When the idea for the blog came about the guys at New Columbia Distillers, LLC. were my first choice, because it only made sense that if I was going to work on a day off I should do the most glamorous thing I could come up with. I went by and both were intrigued enough to let me schedule a day, while probably a bit amused I thought it was going to be a gin party.
Well somebody is going to have a party…
Turns out there are parties at New Columbia Distillers. Unfortunately however, they are on Saturdays and I chose to work on a Friday. Saturdays are bottling parties which meant that the day I worked was all about prepping to ensure the party goers came to a situation where everything was ready to maximize their experience. What that meant for this worker bee was putting labels on 10 cases of bottles which would later be filled with gin.
Biggest wakeup call #1 was the fact that you just do not think about how all the little things get done, especially at a small distillery like New Columbia Distillers. All the things I think makes it special also means a lot of work for the owners. It took me an hour to label all the bottles. I felt proud until I found out that those only got the group started so they didn’t have down time. I’d only labeled about 1/5 of what was needed and it took me an hour.
Saul was pretty positive “It’s nice to see someone try to do it right” and let me tell you lining up the labels sounds easy…until you’ve done it. Now after doing it 120+ times I will forever look to see that the hand on the bottle is placed properly.
When talking to John I inquired about what he found to be the worst part of owning a distillery and without hesitation he said “cleaning…there is a lot of cleaning. Every time we do a batch there is at least ½ a day of cleaning…and now we brew twice a week so that is one full day of cleaning a week”. While John and Saul cleaned I spent an hour restocking the shirts in the retail section and receiving a new shipment in the stock room. As we all know I’m not a fan of cleaning.
What I learned….
First off was how hard it was to actually get into the business. John contributed much of his success to having great contacts in the food and liquor industry. Prior to owning the distillery John worked in the restaurant industry and also at Schneider’s. When New Columbia Distillers first got started they had no idea how hard it would be to get enough grain to meet their supply demands. Originally no one would supply them but luckily a friend, Peter Pastan (Chef and Owner of Obelisk) knew of one farmer who was willing to take the risk allowing the guys to purchase the excess he had. Fast forward to 2013 and Green Hat buys all his grain and they still need to find an additional supplier to meet the growing demand.
Secondly, there wasn’t any drinking or mob-like nicknames, and no one wore a suit or top hat. Seriously! I’m not sure if I chose the wrong day but not a single drop of gin was consumed all day long. No one was drunk…its way more professional than I had hoped. I mean everyone was laid back but it’s definitely a job like mine, you have clients and deadlines and timelines and orders and regulatory agencies, etc. I would do it again though, I loved the people and the distillery itself and they played records all day which created a relaxing atmosphere.
Plus they do know where to get a great burger…