Feb 19, 201407:59 AM
Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans

Local Distilleries You Should Know

Don't miss the products coming out of these close-to-home distilleries.

I keep reading about New Orleans' new-found status as Hollywood South. There are plenty of stories about movies, TV shows, video game production and commercial shoots that have taken residence in our city, often right next door, or at the very least impacting some street we want to use. No complaints. Welcome, everyone. Glad you are here.

Then there’s the numerical explosion of new restaurants and bars caused by, well, no one is quite sure. But we have a lot of new places where we can grab a bite or drink, alongside the ones we have enjoyed for years, and the quality is amazing throughout the entire area.

While it’s all fun and quite a discovery to learn that our little old city, almost 300 years, is “hot,” it’s equally humbling to realize there is just no keeping up with it all. I don’t think I am the only one who is lost whenever a new name pops up. C’mon, ‘fess up, you have been in a conversation and then suddenly there’s a reference to a place. You are lost, confounded, amazed. You took a lot of pride in knowing what is all the current buzz and now in one swoop some jackass has stolen your thunder and sent you crashing back to a naïve and unknowing membership in polite society.

I’m also feeling pretty much inadequate when it comes to discussing our state’s distilleries. And, yes, smart guy, this is not the only area in which I am feeling inadequate but let’s take one subject at a time.

Rum making in Louisiana goes back to 1751. The Jesuits, of course, saw the real potential for growing sugar cane in this climate and the mucky soil. Matters were okay until the Civil War when the North destroyed the stills. The knowledge and the desire to do the work and commit to the product did not resurrect itself until the mid-1990s.

This state’s oldest, and one of three legally operating distilleries in the city of New Orleans, is Celebration Distillation, otherwise known as Old New Orleans Rum. The term “legally” is important because likely in a two-block radius of Tulane’s campus, there are far more stills than three in operation, not to mention the craft brews cranking out at various stages of fermentation.

Old New Orleans Rum was founded in 1995 by local artist James Michalopoulos who decided that the molasses that came as a by-product of sugar cane processing would also be a good basis for a fine rum. His distillery in the Gentilly area of town is open for tours and the story of Old New Orleans Rum is pretty fascinating. Sort of a man against the market; then against a raging hurricane; then against the reconstruction of the facility; then against a market now overrun with competition.

Old New Orleans Rum comes in white, amber, Cajun Spice and a 10-year old rum available only at the distillery. 

Likely the grandest of the distilleries in Louisiana is Louisiana Spirits, maker of Bayou Rum. Just off I-10 in southwest Louisiana at Lacassine (exit 48 if you are planning to stop by), this place took the plunge in a big way. If New Orleans Rum is a Rube Goldberg type of operation, and it is, Louisiana Spirits is the Superdome.

They've got a grand visitors’ center, lots of glass so you can see the entire operation, a demonstration stand of sugar cane, and knowledgeable folks who know every aspect of the entire operation. It’s worth the almost three-hour drive to see the column still. What a work of art! If you tour the operation, you will see where the investment of $10 million ended up.

Two main products are Silver Bayou Rum and Spiced Bayou Rum. Other higher quality rums will be released when the operation gets a little more age under its belt.

A broader range of products was the goal of Donner-Peltier Distillers in Thibodaux. The business is the project of two married couples who are good friends (I’m pretty sure they still are) and felt that this kind of operation was worth a grand pursuit.

DP distills Oryza Vodka, Oryza Gin, Rougaroux Full Moon Dark Rum, Rougaroux Sugar Shine Clear Rum, Rougaroux 13 Pennies Praline Rum, and their newest spirit, LA1 Whiskey, the first aged whiskey produced in Louisiana since Prohibition. This is a brand new operation, but you can already appreciate the passion and desire for success and quality these folks are bringing to this project.

Atelier Vie is located in the most unlikely location of all the distillers, under the Broad Street Overpass, just to the river side of the I-10. Actually, you should think that Lacassine, or Thibodaux, or Gentilly across the street from a cement plant are also unlikely locations for a distillery. In that case, you are not alone. I’m with you.

Anyway, Atelier Vie, was founded by Jedd Haas, also an artist (what’s up with all these artists getting into distillation?), who has been joined by Skylar Rosenbloom. These guys started with Buck 25 Vodka, a 125-proof vodka that really makes the process of infusing fruits and vegetables go very fast. Next came Toulouse Red, a red absinthe; followed by Riz, a rice whiskey; then Toulouse Green, a “green fairy” absinthe; and now Euphrosine Gin, a London-style gin.

(Disclosure: The following distillery, Cajun Spirits, has not yet begun production. They are proceeding through the permitting process and tuning the results of their distillation tests. As soon as they begin commercial production, we will let you know.)

The other distillery, one of three in the city of New Orleans, is Cajun Spirits, on Poydras Street up from the Dome. Gus Haik, local Uptown man of the world, went to Ben Franklin High School and then the U.S. Naval Academy. He honed his distillation skills as an Engineer onboard ship, turning sea water into drinking water, or at least that’s the story Gus told his ranking officers.

Right now, he has foresworn the sea water conversion in favor of distilling Crescent Vodka and Tresillo Rum.

Amazing products coming from these distillation operations, and, remember, they are near to home so they are near to your heart.

 

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Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans

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In New Orleans, when the subject is wine and spirits, it is very difficult to leave Tim McNally out of the discussion. He is considered one of the “go to” resources in the Crescent City for counsel and information about adult beverages and their place in the fabric of life in this great city.

 

Tim is the Wine and Spirits Editor, columnist and feature writer for New Orleans Magazine; the Wine and Spirits Editor and weekly columnist, Happy Hour, for www.MyNewOrleans.com; the Executive Editor and monthly features writer for Gulf Coast Wine + Dine Online; creator and editor of his own website, www.winetalknola.com; all in addition to his daily hosting duties on the radio program, The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, on the air at WGSO – 990AM, every weekday, 3- 5 p.m, and streamed live on www.wgso.com.

 

Over the years, Tim has proved to be an informed interviewer, putting his guests at ease, and covering tactile and technical information so that even a novice can understand difficult agricultural and production concepts. Tim speaks with winemakers, wine and spirit ambassadors, distillers, authors, people who stage events and festivals, and takes questions from listeners and readers, all seamlessly blended together in a program that is unique in America.

 

Tim’s love of wine actually came about many years ago from his then wife-to-be, Brenda Maitland, a noted journalist in her own right, and together they have traveled to the major wine producing areas in the US and Europe, seeking first-hand information about beverages that give us all so much pleasure.

 

They were instrumental in the founding of the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, a major national and international well-regarded festival of its type. They both continue to be involved with the planning and staging of this multi-venue, five-day event now over twenty years old.

 

Tim is also considered one of the foremost professional wine judges in the US, being invited to judge more than 11 wine competitions each year, including the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (the largest competition of American wines in the world, with more than 6,000 entries), the Riverside, CA International Wine Competition, San Francisco International Wine Competition, Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition, Indiana International Wine Competition, Sandestin, Florida Wine Festival Competition, the State of Michigan Wine Competition, the U.S. National Wine Competition, and the National Wine Competition of Portugal.

 

Tim is a guest lecturer to many local wine and dine organizations, and speaks each year to the senior class in the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management at Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.

 

Staying abreast of the news of the wine and spirits world is a passion for Tim, and he is committed to sharing what he knows with his listeners and readers. “Doing something I love, with products that I truly enjoy, created by interesting people, coupling the experience with culinary excellence, and doing it all in the greatest city in America,” are the words Tim lives by.

 

It’s a good gig. 

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