Old New Orleans Rum Distillery Tour
After not being to New Orleans for twenty years, I’m suddenly being drawn back regularly for a variety of reasons. My ancestors had made their home there since the early 1700’s, but since my grandparents died and my brother moved out to California, the Miller part of the family tree hasn’t had a presence in NOLA. So while I never lived there, I still feel a strong connection to the place when I’m in town; especially when strolling around my grandparents old neighborhood, the French Quarter.
My most recent trip was for work, and on my way to the airport I snuck in a $10 tour of the Old New Orleans Rum distillery. The distillery is located in Gentilly, about a ten minute ride outside of the French Quarter. The distillery offers a free shuttle service from a few convenient locations; a cab there will run you about $15 from the Quarter.
The distillery is off the I-10, located across from a cement plant–a location rendered aquatic by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The distillery was inundated with eight feet of water which remained for a week. A wooden plaque inside shows the high water mark. It’s amazing that they are still operating after enduring such hardship.
Bob Songy was our tour guide, one of the company’s twelve employees (eight of whom are full-time). Bob took us through the rum production process, beginning with sourcing the molasses.
Old New Orleans rum gets their molasses from Louisiana sugar cane grown and processed in nearby Thibodaux. 5,000 gallon tank trucks pump their loads into two tanks just inside the roll-up door before being washed with hot water in preparation for fermentation.
The primary still is unlike stills we’ve become accustomed to seeing in craft distilleries. Technically a pot still, it looks like a steam-jacketed dairy tank with a kludge of pipes and hoses attached. You have to admire the ingenuity. Here the wash is distilled to 40% ABV.
The secondary still is an antique perfume column still brought over from Paris. This bumps up the ABV to 92.5%. Bob let me taste a few drops off the still–it was surprisingly smooth. The heads of the distillation are sold off for industrial purposes such as paint thinner; a small portion of the tails are added back to the final product for flavor.
After secondary distillation, the rum is filtered through granulated charcoal twice before a final filtration through a small plate-and-frame paper filter. Finally, the rum is proofed down with deionized water to 40% ABV.
Whereas batches used to take a full seven days to complete, recent process changes by local artist and owner James Michalopoulas reduced the batch time from seven to four-and-a-half days. (The distillery operates two nine hour shifts per day.)
What happens next depends on which product they’re producing. The white rum has a touch of natural vanilla added before bottling. The rest of the rums rest in former American whiskey barrels from either Tennessee or Kentucky. A small amount of caramelized sugar is added to each aging barrel for color. The three-year is done first. The base rum for their Cajun Spice Rum is aged five years prior to the addition of cinnamon, clove, cayenne, nutmeg, and chicory. The spiced rum is the most popular among their products (the distillery produced a total of 60,000 bottles last year). Next up is the ten-year, which is a single barrel product identified by hand-written labels.
The tour ended (as all tours do) in the tasting room, where Bob took us through the entire Old New Orleans product line. I’m fond of the crystal–the added vanilla is not particularly noticeable. We included it in the 32 light rum blind taste test where it fared pretty well. The three-year is a good mixer, as is the spiced, although it’s got a bit too much cinnamon for my taste. The 10-year is an interesting one, especially since it’s a true single-barrel product. The sample I had in the tasting room was complex and had me imagining a Scotch barrel finish. (I’ll revisit that when I write a proper review.)
After tasting all the rum, we ended with a taste of their newest product called Gingeroo. Gingeroo is a 10% ABV concoction of their crystal rum, ginger juice, and Louisiana cane sugar. The result is a nice refreshing drink akin to a spiked fresh ginger beer. The swing-top bottle is also great for home brewing once you’re done.
After the tasting, I purchased a bottle of the ten-year rum ($55). You can’t just admire plucky operations like this after all, you have to support them.
I would definitely recommend the tour to any rum lover visiting New Orleans. Nice folks with a solid product and a heck of a survival story.
Have you had a chance to visit the distillery? Please share your experience below!