Photo: Farrah Skeiky
Photo: Farrah Skeiky

Kings of DC’s Rum Scene

Last year marked the arrival of DC’s first rum distillery, Cotton & Reed, and there’s another one on the way this winter from rum enthusiast Todd Thrasher. As drinkers continue to welcome the tiki craze with open mouths, and with National Rum Day approaching on August 16, many are wondering, “Is rum having a moment?”

“I feel like rum is at the beginning of its moment,” says Lukas B. Smith, the herbalist and cocktail specialist at Cotton & Reed. “Everything has its day. We’ve been doing whiskey, [and] obviously that’s totally changed the drinking landscape in the last 10 years. But mezcal is kind of riding on the back of that. It makes sense for rum to follow suit.”

Thrasher sees a rum revolution in the making, which he hopes will disrupt the spirits hierarchy as he opens his three rum-focused projects in The Wharf: Potomac Distilling Company, Thrasher’s Rum and Tiki TNT. He’s drawn to the sugarcane spirit because of its versatility.

“For me, whiskey tastes like whiskey,” he says. “Rum can taste like so many different things. Rum can taste like whiskey, rum can taste like scotch, rum can taste like mezcal – but it’s still, at the heart, rum.”

Rum was the first spirit that Thrasher ever tried, but his understanding of it has developed considerably since Captain Morgan and RC Cola in college.

“It was like a gateway drug,” he says.

Now, he travels the tropics exploring various styles of rums, each made differently depending on the island of origin.

Sugarcane is thought to have been cultivated in New Guinea as early as 6000 B.C. There were also varieties of the plant in China and India. By the 15th century, Europeans got a hold of it and began spreading sugarcane via spice trading routes, from the Canary Islands and West Africa to the Caribbean. When harvested, the juice extracted from sugarcane can easily be fermented into rum with the addition of water and yeast. In the United States, most rum is made from molasses or other sugarcane byproducts, rather than raw sugarcane juice.

For Smith and the Cotton & Reed team, their bar and distillery act as educational opportunities for discerning drinkers.

“People know more about what they’re drinking than they ever have before,” Smith explains.

But that isn’t necessarily true for rum, which isn’t as well-represented as whiskey or gin on the craft distilling scene, and is often given a bad name by sugary, artificial brands with tropical flavorings and over-the-top spices.

“We can be somebody’s first good experience with rum,” he says. “They’ll probably never forget it.”

The three products currently available at Cotton & Reed – white rum, dry spiced rum and allspice dram – are each meticulously formulated to deliver the right flavors and aromas when sipped.

“Rum is cool because it’s got a natural complexity of aroma to it,” Smith says. “Our rum doesn’t have any sugar in it at all, but it still has a distinctive fruitiness that say a vodka will almost never have.”

Cotton & Reed rums have also been specifically designed with cocktails in mind.

“It holds more flavor and aroma, so it can stand up in cocktails in ways that a lot of vodkas would have a hard time doing,” he says.

Rum’s partner in crime is often citrus, so many classic rum cocktails, like the daiquiri, feature lime juice. At Cotton & Reed’s bar, the bright and refreshing Gin Rummy and White Lion are ideal antidotes to the summer heat. The Gin Rummy is white rum infused with gin botanicals, house lime, dill cordial and limón de jerez.

The White Lion, an off-menu special that’s always available upon request, is white rum, allspice dram, simple syrup and lime juice. In addition, Smith is always experimenting with different summer fruits in rum slushies.

Thrasher is known for shaking up rum-forward cocktails at his family of restaurants and bars, and two summer favorites include Wet Money at PX and Dreaming of Crystal Clear Blue Waters at Restaurant Eve. Wet Money has passion fruit juice, white rum, tequila, blue curacao, lime juice and salt water. Dreaming of Crystal Clear Blue Waters has grapefruit juice, falernum, house grapefruit bitters and white rum. Thrasher is also embracing the frozen drink craze, and the piña colada slushie has been particularly popular at Hummingbird.

When he opens his distillery this winter, he’ll start by making four types of Thrasher’s Rum: white rum, gold rum, traditional spiced rum and Green Garden Rum, which he describes as a rum for people who like gin, since it’s made in the style of gin with herbs from Restaurant Eve’s garden.

Tiki TNT will also make its debut this winter, with three bars and large garage doors that open to the waterfront. But don’t expect the island kitsch found in most tiki bars – instead, Thrasher’s take is inspired by the Polynesian bars he frequents on his travels. As for the drinks, there will be traditional tiki cocktails as well as the team’s own twists on the classics. He also plans to give guests plenty of opportunities to delve into the world of rum.

“I’m going to have every rum I can possibly get my hands on,” he says.

Both rum evangelists will be marking this month’s National Rum Day with specials at their bars on August 16. PX will serve almost exclusively rum cocktails for the day, and Cotton & Reed plans to serve daiquiris three ways showcasing different rum styles from around the globe.


Cotton & Reed: 1330 5th St. NE, DC; www.cottonandreed.com

Hummingbird: 220 South Union St. Alexandria, VA; www.hummingbirdva.net

PX: 728 King St. Alexandria, VA; www.barpx.com

Restaurant Eve: 110 South Pitt St. Alexandria, VA; www.restauranteve.com

Tiki TNT & Potomac Distilling Company: coming to The Wharf