Jul. 6—In this episode of the UnCapped podcast, host Chris Sands heads to Washington, D.C., to talk to Todd Thrasher about his tiki bar and distillery. They discussed the history of Tiki TNT and Thrasher's Rum, which is housed inside it, as well as what tiki culture is and were it came from. Here is an edited excerpt of their talk.
UnCapped: I'm here with Todd Thrasher, founder, owner ... are there any other titles you give yourself?
Todd Thrasher: Distiller, bartender, chief babysitter.
UnCapped: It's beautiful here. I don't think I've ever been to The Wharf.
Thrasher: I grew up across that bridge, the Case Bridge, about 4 1/2 miles, so I did spend a lot of time here as a kid, and it was maybe not the nicest place to come at that point. But it definitely has changed — thanks to Washington, D.C., and the mayor — and allowed me to do something like this. ... The fish market here is actually the oldest continuously run open-air market in the United States.
UnCapped: Oh, wow.
Thrasher: It started out as general market ... but over the years, it became just a fish market. When I was a kid, we would come down here.
UnCapped: How long have you been here?
Thrasher: We opened here Dec. 5, 2018. Because of permitting, the bar opened first.
The way the whole idea started was I was sitting in a bar in Wellington, New Zealand, in 2010, called the Motel Bar. The only way to gain access to this bar was to bring a bottle of spirits from where you come from.
You should see the liquor display he has. It was amazing. Imagine, everybody from all over the world is bringing a bottle of spirits from where they come from. His wall of spirits was insane.
My wife and I were sitting there, and I look across the bar, and there was this bottle of Macchu Pisco. It's made by two ladies who are from Peru, but they grew up in Washington, D.C. They both are unbelievably smart women, and I knew them. Their bottle is sitting right across from me, and I say to my wife, "Wouldn't it be awesome to be sitting in a bar halfway across the world and seeing something there that you created? How cool would that be?"
That's how the whole idea started, sitting in a bar in New Zealand in 2010. Fast forward eight or 10 years, and boom, it opened up.
UnCapped: So basically you just wanted to have your name on a bottle sitting somewhere.
Thrasher: As a restaurant person or a bartender, the only way you make money is if you're there. I wanted to figure out a way to make money when I slept. I thought developing a worldwide brand would [allow me to] make money while I'm sleeping. And it does, to a certain extent. Right now, we're only in six states, but it does make money when I'm not there, which is great.
UnCapped: I'm guessing the name of the distillery has something to do with your last name.
Thrasher: Technically, no, because the distilling company is called Potomac Distilling Co. The brand name Thrasher's Rum definitely has something to do with my last name. I used Potomac Distilling Co. because, obviously, we're on the river, and I didn't know if I was gonna do things other than rum. I knew I wanted to make rum because that's what I drink, and because there was a hole in artisanal rum back then. Now there's not.
UnCapped: I do think there are fewer people who specialize in rum than whiskeys and gins. Gin is exploding right now.
Thrasher: Well, it's a few things. Whiskey is sexy, right? People love whiskey. People think it's the first spirit of the Americas.
UnCapped: It's got that sophistication.
Thrasher: But the one thing about whiskey is it takes a long time to make. I honestly think gin exploded way before whiskey did. I remember circa 2010, there would be a new gin every week. Brooklyn had, like, four gins — made in Brooklyn!
UnCapped: Did that coincide with the explosion of craft distilleries?
Thrasher: I honestly think craft distillers started a little bit later, and I think in the next few years, you're gonna see a massive explosion.
UnCapped: I would think a big contributing factor to gin popularity is that it's one of those spirits with character that a distillery can put out right away, while they're waiting for their [other products].
Thrasher: I think people also don't understand what gin is. Gin is just vodka with flavoring.
UnCapped: A neutral spirit that has stuff thrown into it.
Thrasher: I think most people throw juniper in it to make it ginny. ... But then you start looking at things like Green Hat, here in D.C. I'm sure it has some juniper in it, but I don't taste juniper.
UnCapped: Yeah, McClintock in Frederick make phenomenal gin, and their's is also not a super juniper-y one, especially their Gardener's Gin and Reserve Gin.
Thrasher: Gin is botanical by nature, but most of the time, when people say, "I don't like gin," I don't think they don't like gin; I think they don't like juniper. I like all gin, but I particularly like new American gin that doesn't have as much juniper in it.
UnCapped: The star anise is definitely very polarizing, too.
Thrasher: Yeah, it is. It's a big flavor.