Photos by Clarissa Villondo and Kaylee Dugan
Ten years ago you couldn’t buy booze that was distilled in D.C. Now we’ve reached the point where you can choose between rum, whiskey, gin and vodka made all over the District. Forget about carving time out of your day to make a pilgrimage to one of our few distillers, getting D.C. made booze is as simple as stopping by your closest liquor store. And sometimes, it’s even more than that. Cotton & Reed doesn’t just want you to swing by and purchase a bottle. They want you to sit down and have a drink.
Conveniently located across the way from Union Market, Cotton & Reed is the latest in D.C.’s new wave of distilleries, but instead of starting with vodka or gin (or a whole slew of things like District Distilling Co.), they’re keeping it simple by focusing on rum. The latest spirit to become trendy as hell.
Yet, Cotton & Reed shies away from the trappings that could make their bar / distillery feel like a fad. Everything is simple. The bar is an open room with tall ceilings and few adornments, putting the bottles of their white and dry spiced rum front and center. The wooden bar has some sweet mythical beasts carved into the top, but that’s as fantastical as it gets. For being so industrial, the room feels welcoming and warm. The touches of warm copper and wood certainly help.
The cocktail list is equally as minimal, but covers a variety of flavors. All of the syrups and sodas are made in house and the craftsmanship behind them shows. The Cuba Liberace is nothing more than a Cuba Libre, but the use of homemade black cola gives it a brighter, more refreshing, and less syrupy sweet flavor. Likewise, their Daiquiri is very basic, made with only rum, lime, and simple syrup, but it’s smooth, summery, and (too) easy to drink.
If you’re not interested in the classics, the Liquid Nostalgia shows off bartender Lukas B. Smith’s soda making ability quite well. Made with Orangewellian soda, rum, and the french aperitif bonal, it’s light and sweet with a creamy kick at the end. It’s the sort of drink that might just trick you into thinking the weather is 20 degrees warmer than in reality. There’s also my personal favorite, Readbeard. A combo of rum, Campari, ginger beer, and lemon, it’s equal parts spicy, citrusy, and bitter.
Whether you’re familiar with rum, or a total novice, Cotton & Reed drinks are drinkable enough to suite any fan of booze. Plus, when you’re done, the Fishwife (and the rest of Union Market) is only a few steps away.
Cotton & Reed is located at 1330 5th Street NE. They’re open from 4 p.m. to midnight Wednesday – Friday and noon to midnight Saturday & Sunday.