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.