Drink Local: New Orleans Distilleries Where Spirits Are Made

by Allison Alsup on November 12, 2013

in Cocktail Culture, Things To Do, Travel

Down here in New Orleans, we celebrate with cocktails like we invented them (we did), but in recent years, we have taken our love of spirits to new heights and with two top-notch distilleries. From rum to absinthe to vodka, our home grown alcohols are some of the best on the market. Stop by these New Orleans distilleries to see what kind of expertise, love, and care go in to making New Orleans spirits.

Old New Orleans Rum

2815 Frenchmen Street
Tours: Monday – Saturday; see website for times. $10. Tours last approximately 45 minutes, and include tasting the full range of rums.
Tip: For weekday tours, consider taking the free shuttle from the French Quarter –reservations necessary.

Oak barrels at Old New Orleans Rum.

Oak barrels at Old New Orleans Rum.

Local Old New Orleans Rum owner James Michalopoulos is best known for his textural, impressionistic paintings of colorful shotguns and New Orleans subjects, but in 1995 Michalopoulos transformed an old cotton mill into a distillery and launched Old New Orleans Rum. As tour guide Bob Songy reveals, Michalopoulos has been distilling since the age of seven when a grade school teacher challenged his young student to distill water. Suffice it to say, his current line of products — four rums and a new rum and ginger soda called Gingeroo — are all a bit stiffer.

Despite taking on eight feet of water during Hurricane Katrina (the water mark remains), Old New Orleans Rum continues to operate from the same warehouse and has seen a tremendous rise in popularity. Songy notes that in 2011, the company produced 30,000 bottles; in 2012, they produced 60,000, and soon Old New Orleans Rum will need to ramp up production to 24 hours a day to meet the rising out-of-state demand for their product. With visible pride, Songy notes that the company recently sent its first shipment to France.

Cup of rum in hand, the tour covers the distillation process, which remains remarkably unmechanized and intimately gauged via the employees’ sense of sight and smell. Learn insider terms like head, hearts, and tails, as well the difference between the angel’s share and the devil’s.

Tours include a sample of all four Old New Orleans Rums.

Tours include a sample of all four Old New Orleans Rums.

Labeling the bottles at Old New Orleans Rum.

Labeling the bottles at Old New Orleans Rum.

Atelier Vie

1001 S. Broad at Euphrosine (located in the Art Egg Studios)
Tasting and purchasing: Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
See Atelier Vie website for product line and pricing.

Co-owner Skylar Rosenbloom enjoys sharing the wares at Atelier Vie's distillery in Mid-city.

Co-owner Skylar Rosenbloom enjoys sharing the wares at Atelier Vie’s distillery in Mid-City.

“We saw a need and decided to fill it,” says Atelier Vie co-owner Jedd Haas. “A lot of people like to drink in Louisiana, but not a lot of product is actually distilled here.” Skylar Rosenbloom, also a co-owner, adds that New Orleans is often called the most European of American cities and sees Atelier Vie as continuing the continent’s longstanding tradition of distilling fine spirits, including absinthe, which has French and Swiss origins. “Everything we do here is natural,” Rosenbloom explains. “No additives.”

While larger companies use mega stills, Atelier Vie works in smaller batches. Their largest still produces just thirty gallons.

While larger companies use mega stills, Atelier Vie works in smaller batches. Their largest still produces just thirty gallons.

Atelier Vie is a relatively new outfit, open only since June 2012. Although production remains a weekend and night labor of love for its five principals, already this Mid-City distillery can boast six different alcohols: two absinthes (the fruitier, hibiscus-infused Red Toulouse and a traditional Green Toulouse), a rice (not rye) whiskey, two gins (Euphrosine and Thalia), and a 125 proof vodka called Buck 25, crafted especially for home infusion aficionados. Soon Atelier Vie hopes to source all of its herbs and wormwood locally, as it already does for the rice in its whiskey.

Atelier Vie runs a modest operation and doesn’t offer tours. “But we like visitors,” says Rosenbloom. He’s clear that they’re happy to offer free tastings during weekend hours and show how the process works. Those interested can either email ahead of time or simply drop by during the weekend sales hours (use the intercom at the front of the building). In addition, Atelier Vie can be found on the shelves of popular bars like Three Muses in the Marigny, Twelve Mile Limit in Mid-City and CapDeVille in the CBD; French Quarter visitors can find Atelier products at Sidney’s on Decatur Street.
new orleans writer
-Allison Alsup is the co-author of The French Quarter Drinking Companion, a narrative guide to 100 bars in America’s most eclectic neighborhood (Pelican Press). For more information, visit the Spirited Tipplers website.

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