The Sweet Spirit of Louisiana
All photos by Sara Havens. While many rum distillers create their spirit using strictly molasses, the team behind Louisiana Spirits’ Bayou Rum wanted a recipe that would honor the state’s historic cash crop, sugarcane, which happens to be growing all around the distillery in Lacassine, La. So they created a recipe using raw sugar and molasses, fermented with a cane yeast.
Brothers Tim and Trey Litel, along with longtime friend Skip Cortese, launched Bayou Rum in the summer of 2013 and shortly after opened the 36,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art distillery and visitor’s center to the public. They started small, introducing the Bayou Silver and Bayou Spiced rums to the local market that first year.
The following year, they came out with Bayou Satsuma, a flavorful rum-based liqueur made with juice from the Satsuma orange, which also is grown in Louisiana. And in 2015, they tried their hand at a bourbon barrel-finished product with the Bayou Select.
I recently made a trip down to Lacassine, which is near Lake Charles, to check out the distillery and meet some of the men and women behind Bayou Rum. I experienced a team committed to creating quality and tasty products, who also respect and honor the state’s rum-producing traditions.
I knew I was in for a one-of-a-kind experience when my group was greeted by a baby alligator, on loan from the Gator Chateau to give us the full Louisiana welcome.
The distillery was charming, a blend of both modern and historic amenities, including a 109-year-old farmhouse, a tasting bar and gift shop.
It was then onto the rum and learning more about each Bayou Rum expression from Head Distiller Jeff Murphy and Master Blender Reiniel Vicente. As we sampled each product, Murphy and Vicente provided ample background into the flavor profiles and expressions the distillers were going for.
The Silver, Spiced and Select rums are bottled at 80 proof, while the Satsuma is more of a liqueur and bottled at 60 proof. Murphy wouldn't give any hints about the numerous spices that go into the Spiced expression, and our many guesses weren't even close, he said.
The favorite of the day was, hands down, the Bayou Select, which is aged for three years in used bourbon barrels from various distilleries, including Buffalo Trace, Jim Beam and Four Roses, Murphy said.
The rum took on the sippable qualities we love in a fine bourbon, and through the sweetness we could detect hints of vanilla, caramel and even a little bit of pepper spice at the end.
I thoroughly enjoyed my sample of the Select and was able to pry a couple more pours from Vicente afterward. A bourbon girl at heart, this spirit could make me think twice about my preferences.
After the tasting, co-owner Skip Cortese showed us around the working stills, barrel aging warehouse and bottling room at the distillery. It's a very hands-on operation, and each process requires a delicate inspection — from labeling and packaging to a quality-control laboratory.
A hat in the Bayou Rum gift shop cleverly read, “Bayou Rum: Make rum great again.” While it is clearly a play on a slogan from the recent presidential election, it could very well be the company's motto.
My stay in Louisiana included visits to many local bars and restaurants, which boasted original cocktails featuring Bayou Rum. And we saw several Bayou Satsuma chilled shot machines alongside the likes of Fireball and Jäger. The trip allowed me to experience the quaint city of Lake Charles, which is becoming a tourist destination for its Louisiana staples like gators and sugar cane, as well as its sordid history and high-end casinos that have popped up in recent years.
The Golden Nugget casino, for example, featured everything you love about Vegas without, well, the Vegas. Gambling, extravagant restaurants, nightclubs and a huge outdoor pool area were under one roof. The pool area was so large, it included a hot tub for at least 12, a lazy river and several couches and lounge chairs inside the pool! Best of all, no matter how much you played at slot machines or the tables, servers regularly came around to take your complimentary drink order — and that rarely happens anymore in Vegas unless you're at a high-roller table.
Other highlights of the trip included a stop at the Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu, which featured the largest display of Mardi Gras costumes in the South, and a boat ride through the private marshes with Grosse Savanne Eco-tours. We encountered thousands of lily pads but only two baby gators, which was just fine by me and my fellow passengers.
Both Lake Charles and the Bayou Rum Distillery gave me a deeper appreciation for the Louisiana landscape, much more than I've experienced from my several stints in New Orleans.
For more on Bayou and the rebirth of American rum, please click here.