As many of you can guess, New Orleans didn’t become a party town overnight, prompted by the appearance of neon-green hand grenades and gallon-sized hurricanes. Instead, this city holds historically well-rounded taste in heightened spirits. This rich history of excess positions New Orleans rather naturally as the quintessential hotspot for spirited creativity. In other words, countless, passionate distillers have migrated towards our southern corner of Louisiana to grow the finest ingredients for the finest new spirits on the market.
These spirited endeavors date back to the 1700s, beginning with rum, rather than grenades. Known for their rich blackstrap molasses, sugarcane plants covered the plantations located along the Mississippi River, soaking up the fertile soil of the Delta. This legacy is celebrated in the production of Old New Orleans Rum, founded by New Orleans-based artist James Michalopoulos. Since 1995, Celebration Distillation, located on Frenchmen Street, holds the title of the oldest premium rum distillery in the United States. Michalopoulos, inspired by a Swiss friend known for spirits made from homegrown fruit, decided to use sugar cane to create spirits of his own in Louisiana. In 1999 the first white rum hit the market in New Orleans and, over time, became known as Old New Orleans Rum.
A new distillery our people here are pretty excited about is Magnolia Vodka. Magnolia vodka is an interesting addition to our list of fine liquor establishments here in New Orleans because the craft boasts an entirely gluten-free process. The product is distilled 6 distinct times and made up of 100% corn. This corn is also homegrown here in Louisiana, making it a must-try for any vodka connoisseurs in the surrounding area. Joel M. Brannan, owner of Magnolia Vodka claims their primary goal was to create a tasteful vodka that could charm a southerner’s taste buds. Not only has the group succeeded, the pure vodka is a refreshing new taste for southerners and northerners alike.
Since the establishment of countless new distilleries here in NOLA, the competition in the liquor industry here has only grown. The quality of flavors is only increasing as more distilleries position themselves in the heart of the South. Seven Three Distilling is another locally sourced spirit that encapsulates the spirit of New Orleans with home-grown flavors. The distillery has products ranging from Moonshine to Whiskey to Vodka yet each new product is labeled by a recognizable New Orleans neighborhood, like the Marigny or the Irish Channel. In fact, the distillery is named after the 73 unique neighborhoods throughout New Orleans that make our city so special. This gorgeous open space is a must-visit for happy hour every Thursday to garner some personalized New Orleans inspiration and spirit in a city overflowing with flavor.
The true spirit of New Orleans that mixes well with just about anything is the fruity, spiced whiskey known as Southern Comfort. The history from Southern Comfort states that Martin Wilkes Heron went south to New Orleans and worked as a bartender at McCauley’s Salon on St. Peters Street and would fix the harsh flavor of barrel whiskeys by adding his secret blend (Orange, vanilla, cinnamon, peach, and sugar) calling it “Cuffs and Buttons.” For the New Orleans Cotton and Industrial Exposition, he dressed up the name to Southern Comfort and marketed it as a gentleman’s refined drink.
New to the New Orleans scene, yet slowly making its way in the world of New Orleans distilleries is Atelier Vie on S. Broad St. Though the distillery creates fine gin and vodka, it is most known for the ever-fabled absinthe. With the drink’s strong ties to New Orleans, it is only fitting that the distillery is located here as well. If you take a walk down Bourbon Street in the French Quarter, you’ll eventually run into a small 200-year old bar known as the Old Absinthe House, where the two famous Atelier Vie absinthes are distributed. Take your pick between the Toulouse Green and the Toulouse Red absinthes, if you dare, and take a tour of the upcoming distillery.
Although the miles of sugarcane fields that once graced New Orleans are long gone, Lula Restaurant Distillery on St. Charles is proud to be bottling a bit of history in their three fine Spirits. Lula Gin, Rum, and Vodka are 100 percent handcrafted, 100 percent sugarcane, and 100 percent gluten-free. Though the micro-distillery is one of the newest in the Big Easy, it is slowly, but surely making its way to fame in New Orleans as the first distillery to also feature a restaurant.
Joining the thriving community of up and coming entrepreneurs as part of the “new New Orleans” scene is the team over at Cajun Spirits Distillery. Known most famously for their Crescent Vodka, the distillery, like many of its successful fellow distilleries is proud to make their products with 100 percent sugarcane. Because sugarcane has for so long and is still one of New Orleans most abundant products, Cajun Spirits chose this as their official Louisiana-grown base for their spirits.
When referring to the famous Sazerac there are three key things – Sazerac the company, Sazerac the cocktail, and Sazerac (Rye) the whiskey. Sazerac Rye Whiskey symbolizes the tradition and history of New Orleans dating back to the 1800’s, when Antoine Amedie Peychaud, owner of a New Orleans apothecary, treated his friends to brandy toddies including his own secret family bitters recipe, “Peychaud’s Bitters.” In 1838, he made the toddies using a double-ended egg cup as a jigger, then known as a “coquetier” (pronounced “ko-k-tay”), from which the word “cocktail” was derived. By 1850, the Sazerac cocktail made with Sazerac Brandy and Peychaud’s Bitters became the first, original, and only branded cocktail – the Sazerac. The Sazerac cocktail received its name in 1853 from the wildly popular Sazerac Coffee House located in Exchange Alley, where the owner Sewell Taylor institutionalized the drink at his coffee house by using only Sazerac de Forge et Fils brandy, which he imported and sold exclusively. In 1870, Thomas H. Handy purchased the Sazerac Coffee House and began to acquire and market brands of liquor including the rights to Peychaud’s Bitters. In the 1890’s, his company began to bottle and market the Sazerac cocktail, now made with American rye whiskey instead of brandy with a dash of absinthe. In addition, the company operated the Sazerac Bar on Royal St., and by 1933, Handy’s former secretary C.J. O’Reilly chartered the Sazerac Company, bottling the Sazerac Cocktail. Also, in that same year, “Herbsaint” was made, which was later used instead of absinthe in the 1940’s. Ever since (except for a stint as a delicatessen and grocery vendor during Prohibition), the Sazerac Company has distilled an ever-increasing line of fine spirits. Finally, in 2000, the Official Sazerac recipe was modified to use Sazerac Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey. Cheers, New Orleans!
There's a new vodka in town. Made specifically as a toast to the heart of New Orleans is Lucky Player Vodka's King Cake flavor. Headquartered in Florida, produced and bottled in France with artwork by New Orleans' artist Andrea Mistretta, this vodka speaks to the diversity of the Crescent City. King Cake is handcrafted by skillful distillers in the South of France and is five times distilled. This provides the taste buds with a delectable smooth finish. Visit the distillery's website for one-of-a-kind cocktail creations that will have you wishing for Carnival season.
You don't have to be in New Orleans very long to spot him. Look! It's Sam Cortese rolling down the street in his mule-drawn wagon with the words “Roman Chewing Candy” sprawled along its sides. The candy has been a New Orleans staple for over a century. With a long heritage of bringing smiles to the faces of the young and old, Roman Candy now has a new venture. Drum roll. Introducing, Roman Candy Rum, now available for all your celebration needs! It offers delicious traditional flavors of chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla. Roman Candy Rum boasts that it's “Not Grandpa's Candy”. Mr. Cortese, we believe you, and we love for you it.