Just a few miles east of Lake Charles, Louisiana, a new distillery is attracting attention. Room With No View took advantage of a beautiful day to stop in and see what Louisiana Spirits is all about. Impressed with what we saw on the outside, we stepped inside and were disappointed to discover that we'd missed the last tour of the day. A very gracious and apologetic young lady invited us to watch a short film on the distillery and assured us that we could still enjoy a taste test afterwards.
The film highlighted the use of Louisiana products in this locally owned and operated company. Once it was over we learned just how local the ownership really is. To our surprise, one of the owners of Louisiana Spirits was on hand and offering to give us a personal tour. We were more than happy to accept.
Our host was Skip Cortese, part owner and one of the creative forces behind Bayou Rum. (His partners are Tim and Trey Litel. Trey is a former Bacardi Rum marketing and sales representative.) After introductions we were taken back to the distillery floor where we could see a hand-painted mural depicting a scene from a Louisiana bayou. Painted by Skip's brother, Peter Cortese, the scene evokes the days of old when rum was distilled by rum-runners paddling the back waters of this state. In the center is T-Boy, heading out on a rum run. That's him in the bottom right corner as well, with his bag of crawfish and a bottle of Bayou Rum. He's wearing a no smoking sign around his neck which is a precaution he may have learned the hard way while working around his still. According to Skip, T-Boy is on each bottle of Bayou Rum five times. He assured us it was five times, though I've only found him four times.
We visited the bottling room first. It is there that the bottles are first labeled then washed. The label design was an eighteen-month process and I think their time was well spent. There are many Louisiana products that cater to the tourists and end up looking quite tacky in their zeal to highlight what outsiders imagine is the Louisiana/Cajun culture. But the Bayou Rum label has a classic look that includes an alligator, a French motto (L'esprit de la Louisiane) and the Bayou Rum seal with T-Boy at its center. The new bottles are washed to ensure there is no contamination of the product. And what better cleaning agent can you think of than rum? This helps keep the rum as pure as possible.
Back on the distillery floor Skip explained how they processed the sugar and molasses. (All of the sugar, molasses, and other ingredients come from Louisiana. Louisiana produces more sugar than any Caribbean island.) The distillation unit is a very clean operation. Stainless steel shines everywhere save for the 18 foot copper tower which is the heart of the still. The rum is drawn off from the center of the column; the heart's cut. The heads and tails (the products taken from the top of the column as well as the bottom of the column) are sold off for fuel. It is important that the column is made from copper; the presence of the copper in the process destroys the sulfides that would otherwise naturally end up in the rum.
Once drawn off the copper column, the rum can be used in several different ways. Presently there are three rums produced here; Bayou Silver Rum, Bayou Spiced Rum, and Bayou Satsuma Rum. A batch of rum can be bottled or put into barrels for aging. The barrels, made from American White Oak (the same material used in the Tabasco sauce process), are charred on the inside which caramelizes the rum. You can see in the image below a top from one of the barrels that demonstrates this.
It was fascinating to hear Skip as he worked his way along the tour. His passion for the business is quite evident and this made the tour that much more interesting. He was eager to point out that Bayou Rum is now available in five states along the Gulf Coast. In fact, demand for it has grown such that Louisiana Spirits has had to be careful not to expand too quickly. It is their intention to continue to build a strong customer base along the coast, though don't be fooled. They are well aware of the tourists who flock to New Orleans and the Gulf shores and are quite pleased to hear of so many of them returning up north to their homes with tales of an excellent new rum on the market.
In fact, Bayou Rum is getting some impressive attention. Bayou Spiced Rum was just named Best in Class (Spiced Rum) at the 2014 Miami Rum Renaissance Festival. In March of this year Bayou Rum was awarded Best in Class by American Craft Distillers. And Caribbean Journal included Bayou Rum in their 2014 America's 10 Best Rums. In addition to these accolades, Louisiana Spirits is now able to proudly say they are America's most decorated rum.
Once the tour was over, Skip put us in the hands of Megan at the tasting bar. Laid out in a neat row were small cups with all three rums. (Megan assured us that it was not enough to get us in trouble with the many State Troopers prowling the interstate. In fact, they are not allowed to sell drinks at the bar. It is for tasting purposes only.) After listening to Skip brag about their rum it was time to find out for ourselves if all of these awards meant anything. We were not disappointed.
The silver is the smoothest rum I've tasted. I'm not much of a rum connoisseur but my impressions of rum have always included a fairly strong fuel-aftertaste. There was none of that here. And the spiced rum wasn't too strong. It was perfectly flavored so that you noticed it, enjoyed it, and weren't overwhelmed by it. But the real treat was the last of the three; the Satsuma Rum Liqueur. The fruit flavor is sweet, but there's just the right tinge of bitterness to remind you that this wasn't a mixed drink.
And speaking of mixed drinks, the last taste of the day was a small serving of a Bayou Blossom. Made of two parts Simply Lemonade and one part Bayou Silver Rum, we poured into this mix what was left of our Satsuma Rum sample. I have a strong feeling we will be hearing about some new awards being handed out when the Satsuma Rum is entered into next year's competitions.
Once in the gift shop you'll no doubt want to get a bottle (or three!) to take home. But while you're there, be sure to look around at the shop and bar. Everything around you is beautifully decorated with a variety of historic materials. The pews in the film room were made in 1852 and purchased from a New Orleans church that was damaged in Hurricane Katrina. The timbers were reclaimed from a century-old textile mill in North Carolina. Old bricks and wrought-iron fences have been re-purposed throughout. The design, by Architect Randy Goodloe of Lake Charles, is really top-notch. I'm not sure I've ever seen a mere gift-shop look this magnificent.
Be sure to get at least two bottles of rum so you can get the Bayou Rum bag you see below, though honestly I'm not sure how you could decide which rum to leave behind.
Bayou Rum is available in most stores in Louisiana now, and many restaurants. We were told that the Ritz Carlton in New Orleans is offering a drink they call a "Blonde Hurricane" which features Bayou Rum.
Room With No View would like to thank Skip Cortese for his hospitality and we encourage our readers to read more about Bayou Rum at their home page. You can also follow them on Facebook. To take a tour of the distillery just exit I-10 at Lacassine (exit 48) and you'll see Louisiana Spirits on the frontage road to the west. Unless it is gone on a promotion, you'll see the Bayou Rum truck parked out front. They are open Tuesday through Saturday.