New Orleans is one of the world’s most iconic drinking cities. It’s also one of the United States’ cultural capitols, home to a thriving culinary and bar scene, genre-defining live music, and, of course, one of the biggest parties in the nation. And now, thanks to Roulaison Distilling Co., we also know it as the home of some truly delicious rum.
Earlier this year, we partnered with New Orleans-based Roulaison Distilling Co. to select a private batch of their Barrel Aged Reserve Rum. This 10-barrel blend of rums was distilled from rich Louisiana molasses and aged entirely in ex-bourbon casks from Kings County Distillery in Brooklyn, New York. We loved everything we tasted from Roulaison Distilling Co., but picked this batch for its rich flavor, full body, and lively aromatics.
Even if you weren’t one of the lucky club members to get your hands on this Taster’s Club exclusive, we’d still love to introduce you to this up-and-coming rum producer. So we sat down with co-founder Patrick Hernandez to learn more about how Roulaison Distilling Co. got its start, what makes yeast so important, and why there’s no better place than New Orleans to make fine rum in the United States.
What drew you and co-founder Andrew Lohfeld to rum in the first place?
We felt that, more than other spirits, rum can benefit from prioritizing quality over efficiency at every step of the production and from being as transparent as possible along the way. Our objective is to add more stylistic variety to the American-made rum category and make Louisiana known around the world for its fine rum. Too many rums today rely on uniformity, engineered to be without variability or personality. We take extra time – and put more care and effort into making our rum – so that it can be distinctive, while also being consistent and complex.
Why’d you pick New Orleans?
Our vision centered around producing rum in a historically-minded way which draws on both ingredients and production methods. Prior to Prohibition, rum distillation in New Orleans was prolific due to the prevalence of the sugar cane crop in Louisiana. We wanted to harness that ability to source molasses locally and in doing so work directly with a local mill to use a higher “grade” of molasses than we otherwise would be able to get.
The mill sets aside molasses from the middle of the production process specifically for us. This molasses has a greater level of sugar remaining and a lower ash content than it would otherwise develop if further refined. We envision this higher quality of molasses to be reminiscent of the molasses available before technological advancement allowed for the degree of processing that is available today. Being in Louisiana also gives us the opportunity to work directly with farmers for special projects, sourcing fresh sugar cane to produce rums that are unique expressions of our individual climate and environment.
All of this on top of New Orleans being the birthplace of the American cocktail and “the northernmost city in the Caribbean” combines to make it the ideal location for Roulaison to call home.
How did the startup process go?
Taking an idea and developing it into a real business is never an easy task, but the craft distilling industry certainly has some difficult barriers to entry. Regulations prohibiting home distilling lead many future craft distillers to begin executing their business idea before ever having the opportunity to distill any products. Thankfully, co-founder Andrew Lohfeld learned the craft from some of the best at Kings County Distillery in Brooklyn, New York. While his time there was spent exclusively focused on whisky, he was able to develop his own best practices for when the time came to fire up the stills at Roulaison.
The permitting process was a long and grueling one for us, but those hurdles only made our first batch that much sweeter (figuratively—we are adamant about not adding any sugar or coloring to our rums). Once we were operational, we focused entirely on yeast trials for our first three months of production. We set out to make a truly unique rum, so we could not simply follow a preexisting formula. The task of honing in on that exact flavor profile we were seeking was tedious, but we are happy we spent the extra time to do so.
OK, so tell us a little bit more about how you actually make your spirits.
Our rum begins with 100% Louisiana molasses which is sourced from a mill in Thibodaux, Louisiana, located less than 60 miles from the distillery. That mill, Lafourche Sugars, receives sugar cane from multiple farmers in the surrounding five parishes (the Louisiana equivalent of counties). The “Grade B” molasses we receive has a higher sugar content and lower ash content than blackstrap molasses does, which is better for fermentations.
We ferment for a longer period than is typical, and the yeasts we use were chosen for their intensity of flavor rather than how efficiently they produce alcohol. Longer ferments help to encourage the yeast to break down more fermentation byproducts, allowing for less harsh rum directly off the still, while also allowing them to produce more acids as a method of producing a more robust flavor during distillation.
As a small operation, we run five 26-gallon alembic pot stills in order to produce our small-batch rum. We employ a two-stage distillation process, running four stills simultaneously to “strip” the wash and using the fifth still as a “spirit” still for the final distillation.
We proof spirits down to at least 55% ABV prior to barreling. All barrel storage is done on-site at our warehouse in New Orleans. The space is only moderately temperature-controlled, so the barrels experience large climate swings throughout the year. We utilize many different sizes of barrels with the smallest being five gallons and the largest being 59 gallons. Every barrel we use has already had a previous life for another spirit/distillery.
Any favorite ways to drink it?
We suggest consumers enjoy our Barrel Aged Reserve Rum in whatever way they would normally enjoy aged spirits. Classic whiskey cocktails like an Old Fashioned work nicely with the rum as do classic rum cocktails calling for an aged expression. Many consumers will also find that an ice cube or two is the only thing needed.