Published: September 2014 – Southern Boating
© 2014 Troy Gilbert
After hours spent on the water, boater’s on the Gulf Coast all have their favorite dockside restaurant or marina watering hole and for many rum is the preferred cocktail of choice. Having become so closely associated with boating via the nautical history and the centuries old island distillers of the Caribbean, the refined properties of sugarcane mixed with tropical fruits have become ubiquitous across the globe. However over the last decade, the Caribbean has seen its lock on rum production diminish with distilleries in Central America coming online. And now, one of the largest sugarcane producers in the world, the United States, is also challenging the Caribbean’s rum supremacy. Led by Louisiana and to a lesser extent, Florida, the Gulf Coast is embracing their past distilling heritage and exploding as a rum producing region.
With a legacy of rum distilling primarily silenced by Prohibition in the 1920’s and then antiquated state laws that continued until the late 1990’s, Louisiana has always had its share of Cajun bootleggers working deep in the swamps to produce the liquor for family and friends. With the rise of micro-distillers throughout the United States over the last decade, it’s no surprise that many of these producers have come in from the swamps.
New Orleans artist, James Michalopoulos, was the leader when he first began distilling rum under the Old New Orleans label from Louisiana sugarcane back in 1995. After much experimentation and legal wrangling with the state government, the first bottling run occurred in 1999 and today his rums can be purchased throughout the United States with one of his largest sellers the 5 year aged Cajun Spiced Rum.
Two of the more ambitious producers to come online have been the bottlers of Rougaroux and Bayou rums. Both distilleries are located in the heart of sugarcane country in South Louisiana and within only a few miles of massive century-old sugarcane processing plants where they acquire the highest quality molasses and sugarcane juice. Bayou Rum is the most aggressive of the producers and makes no qualms about wanting to become “America’s Rum” and has recently doubled their production.
Smaller producers are also coming online. When not working on offshore oil rigs, the two owners of Rank Wildcat in Lafayette, LA produce Sweet Crude Rum on their weekends and holidays and already the bottles can be found throughout Louisiana, with rapid plans to expand distribution as they grow. Two other bottlers in Southeastern Louisiana are nearing their first releases and rumors of more investments in distilling equipment are common on the New Orleans mixology circuit.
Louisiana is not alone in this, Florida has already seen several local brands come onto the market, although these are primarily not coming from private distillers and are more boutique bottlers in Miami and Key West.
Boaters and rum drinkers throughout the United States should start paying attention, because Caribbean distilleries already are. Sugarcane production is as perfect and natural of a product in regions of the Gulf Coast as it is in the islands, and before anyone even realizes, those bushwhackers at your favorite yacht club may be mixed using a Made on the Gulf Coast rum and these upstart distillers may soon be sponsoring your next regatta, fishing tournament or poker run.
– View more images of Louisiana rum distilleries and the distilling process HERE.