With a two-man team using local Louisiana molasses, Roulaison Distilling Co. is creating big flavor in small batches of craft rum.
Roulaison Distilling Co.
Hidden in the back of an industrial building, Roulaison Distilling could be easily missed if you don’t know what you are looking for. Rounding the corner behind a craft chocolatier and nestled beside a small local cidery though, the entrance is marked with a bright navy and white sign. It feels a bit like a discovery.
Stepping through the door, nothing else about the distillery is hidden from view. Beyond the front desk and the small but carefully curated gift shop, you can see the total of the distilling facilities: pallets of bottles in various stages of production, two huge tanks (full of molasses), and a row of five small stills at work, filling large glass jugs with distilled rum. The 2,400 square-foot facility is one of the smallest in the state, second only to the nearby Atelier Vie Distillery. This entire operation is maintained by only two men – Andrew Lohfeld and Patrick Hernandez. They handle everything from production, to marketing, to managing vendors and greeting visitors in their well-appointed storefront.
Touring the Facility
Our tour was lead by Andrew, a former New York bourbon distiller with a friendly, outgoing personality. Andrew knew he wanted to make his own spirits, but wanted to move away from the more saturated (and precisely regulated) realm of American bourbon manufacturing. Unlike bourbon, Andrew described rum production as something akin to the “wild west of spirits”. To be classified as a rum, the spirit just has to be made from sugar cane (or one of the products made from sugar cane), and it cannot not be high enough proof to be considered a vodka. Not only is there not a huge American market (yet), but the more lax regulations allow the producer room for creativity and experimentation. Andrew took us through the life of a bottle of rum, from pure sugar cane to finished product in his story-filled tour. One of the most essential and unique features to their product line is the molasses used in Roulaison’s distillation process.
As a bit of background, there are four grades of molasses – A, B, C, and Blackstrap. While most rum in the United States is made from the more accessible blackstrap molasses, Roulaison is able to gain access to a much higher grade B molasses by working directly with local sugar cane mills. Having used plenty of molasses in baking, I was taken aback by the depth of flavor and sweet notes present in the straight molasses they have on hand. It’s no wonder that the two-man team produces such a fine product even without the fancier equipment some larger distilleries can boast.
Roulaison produces the equivalent of 12,000 bottles throughout the year through its five small stills. The rum is first distilled in four small stills at one time, and then the whole product passes a second time through the fifth still. It’s a long, laborious process, but it’s worth it. Once distilled, many of the rums are aged in charred barrels of various types. With such a small production line, every batch can have a bit of its own character. Roulaison divides their rum into a few categories: their flagship product, a white rum; an overproof white rum; a barrel-aged reserve; and then a variety of limited edition single barrel batches that can only be purchased from the facility.
Roulaison is also producing something very unique in the small craft liquor business – Amer, an herbal liquor (or type of amaro) available in original and barrel-aged versions. That’s not all though – cider brandy, crème de cocoa, and other special variations are all in the works as well.
Rum: Their flagship product, Roulaison Rum, is not aged or artificially colored, leaving it crystal clear. The sweetness of the high quality molasses shines through, along with bright notes of citrus. It’s a truly versatile and delicious product that had us all impressed. I can honestly say it’s the best American craft rum I’ve had the pleasure of tasting.
Overproof Rum: A powerful spirit, coming in at 57% ABV in comparison to their standard rum at 34% ABV. The overproof rum has a smokey quality, but is still surprisingly (some may say dangerously) smooth for such a high ABV.
Barrel Aged Reserve: Like many barrel aged spirits, the reserve has whiskey-like notes, and a bit of oakiness. For me, it was my least favorite of the line-up, but that must just be personal preference – some of my group found it to be their favorite.
Single Barrel Rums: I won’t attempt to describe the two single barrel rums we sampled, as it’s highly likely they will no longer be available soon enough. These special batches are pulled due the unique (and random) flavors they end up having, distinguishing them from the rum to be used in the more standard lines above. As the name implies, each run is only as much as the single barrel holds, some as few as 20 bottles of product.
Amer & Barrel-Aged Amer: Let me put this simply: I’m in love with this liqueur. The Amer is sweet and herbaceous, with 20 or so botanicals used in its production. It’s unique while being highly versatile – I could see it in a variety of cocktail combinations in place of other amari. The Barrel Aged has a smokier flavor that I could see working well with Old Fashions.
Andrew shared an incredibly exciting piece of news for the small distillery: they’ve begun working with a distributor and Roulaison will soon be available in Florida, New York, and Illinois, with potential to also go to New Jersey and Pennsylvania. This is good news for my visiting crew – all New Jersey and New York born – as it means we can access this delicious and unique spirit without another flight south to New Orleans.
At a Glance: Roulaison Distilling
Location: 2727 S Broad St., Ste 103 (in the back), New Orleans, LA 70125
Hours of Operation: Open Wednesday-Saturday, see website for daily hours and tour availability.
Bottle Sales Only: No food or drink available for purchase, but they do have a lovely little gift shop.
Must Try: Take a tour for a full tasting, and make sure you try the Amer!
Insider Info: After your tour and tasting, duck into Broad Street Cider & Ale next door to try some local brews in a relaxed bar area.