The first of its kind in D.C., the Cotton & Reed distillery is hoping to re-establish rum’s prominence by introducing it as a more versatile spirit than most have come to know in the decades since prohibition. Located in one of the few remaining industrial areas in the District, they are dialing back the sugar and leveraging more creative distilling/mixology inside the walls of its rustic digs.
OUR ARTICLEBY: Andrew Williams Contributing writer
LL Cool J’s iconic “Mama Said Knock You Out” begins with the line “Don’t call it a comeback/I’ve been here for years.” The lyrics deftly capture Cotton & Reed’s intent — starting a revolution that revives American Rum’s forgotten versatility. The concept behind the District’s first rum distillery is inspired by Founders John Cotton and Reed Walker’s mission to repair rum’s lackluster reputation. Opening in 2016 at the height of the local alcohol scene’s renaissance, their timing is right on point.
The premise is no nonsense: rum has a bad name and they’re out to change that one sip at a time.
Housed in a 90-year old warehouse, remnants of the surrounding neighborhood’s grittier, more industrial past are preserved in many aspects of the bar’s design. From the prevalence of salvaged wood, steel and iron to the garage-style window, exposed piping and curated 80’s soundtrack pumping, there’s a tangible nostalgia.
Cotton & Reed definitely honors the past, but don’t get it twisted; this is about restoring rum’s former glory. Its artisan distilling contrasts the mass-produced, mass-distributed, consolidated rum production spawn in the wake of prohibition. By dialing the sugar way back and ratcheting up innovation, they are introducing spirit affectionados to more stylish and contemporary rums. And with the Tiki bar’s resurgence, the message is loud and clear at Cotton & Reed — it isn’t just for tropical cocktails.
Dropping some fast knowledge: In the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries rum was the dominant spirit of the Western Hemisphere. During that period, there were hundreds of rum distilleries in the Northeast United States, before prohibition sparked sugar’s move south and later the concentration of rum-making into a few large distilleries. Well, the era of bootlegging is gone and Cotton & Reed is now proudly part of rum’s revival.
The bar menu focuses on light and boozy, rich dark and bitter cocktails, as well as crafty slushies. Cotton & Reed is bringing its A-Game, with a creative process driven by inventive, constantly evolving rum-based recipes and they’re just getting started. As LL would say, rum’s gonna take this itty-bitty world by storm.
Peep the chandelier made of glass C&R bottles and crystal decanters, as well as the elevator control board from the 20s, both in the tasting room
There’s a giant inflated pink flamingo floaty left behind from a birthday party that might make an appearance
One of the stars of the show are the dry spiced rum made of a botanical blend
CYTIES highly recommends either the COCOMOTION or the NEGRONI DESPACCIONI