Opening weekend was a success for local, llama-themed Chacho Distillery as its doors were thrown open on May 14 to welcome customers old and new. Although the aguardiente liquor brand has been available for purchase in stores and served at some bars in the DMV area for about five years now, founder and owner Daniel Ziegler says he’s ready for Chacho to solidify its place in the neighborhood.
“It has been an unbelievable community to start my business in and that’s why we’re excited to have a brick-and-mortar distillery,” he says.
On Kansas Avenue in Manor Park sits a simple building, the exterior grey and boxy, but the interior is anything but plain. Passing through the front door, visitors are hit with a splash of color and a wave of comfort as a full bar, seating area and distillery room come into view.
Ziegler admits that if a person was just walking or driving by they “would have no idea that there’s this cozy, comfortable place on the barside.” He says there are two design elements that play into the space: an industrial and distillery feel to the side where production takes place and a welcoming, colorful vibe on the bar side.
But the Colombian-inspired atmosphere serves a purpose other than an aesthetic one. To Ziegler, it was important to also use the location as a place to tell his story and share Chacho with the community.
“We view this space as a launching pad to educate people on the product and for people to really understand what Chacho is from a liquid perspective, but also from a vibe and lifestyle perspective in that it’s something unique and fun,” he says. “The space really reflects that.”
When Chacho was in its infancy, Ziegler would walk up to bars with a bottle of his home-brewed aguardiente in hand to give them a taste, educate them about the liquor, and tell the story of its inception.
On his first trip to Colombia in 2012, the Cincinnati native tried aguardiente — the official spirit of the country — for the first time. He rode a llama through the streets after downing a bottle, thus sparking the inspiration for his own liquor brand. The llama’s name? Chacho.
“I didn’t go down there for inspiration, or trying to find a business opportunity,” he says. “I discovered this awesome product and it changed my life forever.”
Aguardiente is so popular in Colombia that Ziegler likes to tell people “if you were to go to Colombia and not have aguardiente, it’s similar to going to Mexico and not having tequila.”
Loosely translating to “firewater” in English, the liquor is distilled from sugar cane and mixed with alcohol, water, and anise, a spice that tastes like black licorice. While anise is an important ingredient in traditional Colombian aguardiente, Ziegler says it’s not included in the Chacho recipe because he wanted his creation to be unique — so he added a kick of jalapeño. The founder says being one-of-a-kind is both a blessing and a curse.
“People don’t know what Chacho is, what aguardiente is, so that is definitely our biggest challenge. Once they do get it and they do understand it, they love it because there’s nothing else like it on the market.”
A variety of local bars have been mixing Chacho cocktails since the brand went to market in 2016, which Ziegler says has been a huge help for getting the word out.
“The local bar scene and consumers have been incredibly supportive and that’s the only reason I’m here today and the only reason the brand survived Covid-19 at all,” he says.
The founder was actually ready to open Chacho back in September, but decided to wait it out in case there was a surge in COVID cases. Now that vaccines are available, cases are dwindling, and restrictions are lifting, Ziegler decided this was a perfect time to open the doors.
Although D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that restrictions on most public and commercial activities in the District would be lifted beginning on May 21, Ziegler says he and his team are going to analyze the situation before deciding their next steps. Regardless, he asserts that all staff members will still be required to wear face masks.
Moving forward into a post-pandemic era, Ziegler hopes that Chacho will be a warm and welcoming community hub for people to gather and enjoy a special type of liquor you can’t just find anywhere.
“The reason people have taken so strongly to Chacho is the liquor itself is a unique flavor and the story’s unique and we wanted a space that reflects that. My favorite aspect of Chacho is because it’s so unique, people who like Chacho really love it. It’s something they want to share with their friends and family.”
To learn more, visit www.chachousa.com and follow @chacho_usa on Instagram. Book a tour or make reservations today at www.chachousa.com/reservations. Chacho’s current hours are Friday from 4–11 p.m., Saturday from 12–11 p.m. and Sunday 12–9 p.m.
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