On Tap: 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.””
Featured photo by Farrah Skeiky.