The first cocktail Todd Thrasher ever had — or at least the first one he's willing to cop to — was a Cuba Libre with Captain Morgan rum and RC Cola. He was about 20, and the drink, or drinks, had him "puking for a couple of days," he recalls.
But unlike many who will forever swear off the first spirit that makes them honk like a goose, Thrasher never lost his taste for rum.
Next year, Thrasher will even start distilling his own rum. Potomac Distilling Co., the rum distillery and tiki bar from the Eat Good Food Group, is expected to open in September 2017 at the Wharf, the massive, mixed-used development that will include more than 20 restaurants and bars on the Southwest Waterfront.
Thrasher has big plans for the multi-story Potomac Distilling, including a retail shop for those who want to purchase bottles of Thrasher's Rum. Thrasher hopes to produce four rums in a 200-gallon still that he's buying from Corson Distilling in Boise, Idaho. The spirits will include a white rum, a traditional spiced rum, a rum for aging (possibly on barges on the Potomac River) and a nontraditional spiced rum. Just as important, Thrasher wants his spirits to split the difference between a sweet molasses-based rum and a drier, funkier sugarcane-based rhum agricole.
“I want to do [a spiced rum] for people who like gin," Thrasher says. "I want do a rum that will be white in color, but I want to do it with green herbs. So, I want to do it with cardamom. I want to do it with lemongrass. I want to do it with mint. I want to do it with verbena. It will be kind of a lighter style spiced rum.”
Thrasher won't be hiring an experienced distiller. He'll be manning the still himself — after he takes a course in rum distilling at (I swear I'm not making up this name) Moonshine University in Louisville, Ky., and then spends the next year experimenting at friends' distilleries.
“I just decided, ‘Look, I’m going to do it. I’m going to figure it out.’” the bartender says. "It’s all going to be one big experiment. I hope it works.”
Potomac Distilling will include three bars, including one situated on a grassy rooftop space outfitted with tiki torches and a fire pit, where customers can knock back Thrasher's tiki cocktails and frozen drinks. The bars will seat about 100 people year round, with the ability to double capacity in warmer months when Thrasher can serve customers on a patio by the water. Restaurant Eve chef Cathal Armstrong (who's opening his own place on the Wharf) will produce a small, 15-to-20-item bar menu that will pair with the rum-based cocktails. Think chef-driven takes on poke, Spam and other Hawaiian favorites.
“I was worried about doing tiki," Thrasher confides. "I don’t want to do cheesy tiki. I want to do kind of an updated version of tiki.”
Despite his worries, he's thinking long-term with his line of Thrasher's Rum, which he hopes to turn into a major brand.
“I want to produce rum not only to serve at the bar, but I also want to make rum to sell everywhere in the world," Thrasher says; he sometimes jokes with Armstrong about how they only "make money while we're at work," he says.
"The object is to make money while you're sleeping," Thrasher adds. "I’m 45 years old, and I don’t want to work at a bar every night until midnight.”