Inside Cotton & Reed: DC’s First Rum Distillery

As part of our Simple Ingredients Make Design Taste Good campaign, we’re highlighting those who practice a simple ingredients philosophy in life, work, or play.

Jordan Cotton and Reed Walker are the co-founders of Cotton and Reed, DC’s first Rum distillery. Cotton and Reed’s tagline ‘naturally complex’ perfectly delineates how the distillery creates highly complex spirits using simple ingredients, an approach that aligns with Wingate Hughes design method. Located in DC’s Union Market District, Cotton and Walker’s dedication over the past three years led to developing their business plan, perfecting spirit and cocktail recipes, and renovating the 85-year-old building where the distillery is located.

With a few simple ingredients, Cotton and Reed makes their rum taste great and their business look good. “Rum is very simple,” shares Walker. “It’s just sugar and water distilled.” Their rum starts with sugar from Louisiana, then they add yeast sourced from Belgium, and last the mixture ferments for seven days. Once it is distilled, the rum is formed. This simple process is sourced from thousands of different sugars and yeast combinations. The fermentation strategy also varies depending on temperature and timing, as well as the distillation process. “It is a scientific and artistic process,” adds Walker. “Although it is simple in concept, it can be extremely complicated in practice.” Cotton and Reed further simplifies their process with the best quality grains by supporting local farmers.

Rum has been Cotton Jordan and Reed Walker’s favorite spirit for years. “It’s an underrepresented category with a ton of diversity and complexity, though, there are very few craft rum producers in the United States,” Cotton states. “Like the design process, there is room for differentiation and experimentation with rum.”

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Photo Credit: R. Lopez

Cotton and Reed’s front bar showcases liquor shelving units that once resided in the library at Buchanan Elementary School in South East DC. They were restored and painted light blue, a color inspired by Cotton and Reed’s southern Louisiana roots that are also featured on their white rum bottles.

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Photo Credit: Farrah Skeiky

The tiled bar countertop features scientific hearsay illustrations from the 16 and 1700s. These artistic inaccuracies add a unique taste to the distillery’s design.

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Walker and Cotton show off their first batches of Rum last November

Since November, Cotton and Reed’s white and dry spiced rum have been featured in The Washingtonian, Washington Post, and Eater DC. They released a spiced Jamaican rum this spring.