What is the saying, when life hands you sugar cane, make rum right? Well, my guest today is making way more than white rum, aged rum, and rhum agricole down south in Gonzales, Louisiana, that’s for sure.
Sponsored by Louisiana Travel, I am thrilled to have Andrew Soltau. Co-Owner and COO, of Sugarfield Spirits. to guide us through how he and his brother found their way to Gonzales, Louisiana in the middle of a whole lot of sugar cane and started to produce their award-winning spirits.
Have you ever been to Louisiana? I love it for its Creole and Cajun culture, Mardi Gras and the beautiful city of New Orleans, but the Pelican State, offers so much more, including the amazing live music scene covering everything from Jazz to Swamp pop and Zydeco, a fascinating history combining diverse cultures, over 400 festivals a year and adventures including kayaking on the bayous and lakes, hiking in the many National and State Parks throughout the state or the newly launched Louisiana Civil Rights Trail.
Gonzales is midway between the state capital Baton Rouge and the crescent city, New Orleans. It’s also known as the Jambalaya capital of the world – so it’s no surprise that there is a wealth of delicious food and drink to try here!
If you didn’t know already, it’s the home of the cocktail, and gumbo, jambalaya, Tabasco hot sauce, King Cake and beignets! Louisiana offers a food and drink experience that is second to none. Meet craft distillers, brewers and mixologists who are working with local traditions and making a name for themselves on the Louisiana Culinary Trails or Louisiana Libations Trail.
Let the endless beauty of Louisiana feed your soul and inspire you. You can check out more by visiting www.louisianatravel.com.
Here’s one of our favorite cocktails made with Sugarfield Spirits Aged Rum – the Banana Daiquiri!
Andrew says: “Classic Daiquiris are where it’s at. That being said, this is not a classic daiquiri. It is a classic Banana Daiquiri though. We use real fruit because I hate fake Banana flavoring. I love real bananas though. This is light and refreshing and it screams summertime.”
Sounds good to me!
Cocktail of the Week: The Banana Daiquiri
Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Andrew. Just remember that I own the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of Lush Life podcast, with all rights reserved, as well as my right of publicity. So if you want to use any of this, please email me!
This transcript is sponsored by:
Susan: Well, I’m so thrilled to have you on the show. I’m really excited. I love Louisiana and I love Louisiana spirits. So welcome to Lush Life.
Andrew: Thank you for having me, Susan. Yeah, it’s great to be here. We’re having a beautiful day here down in in Gonzales, Louisiana. I’m sitting here at the distillery and look forward to our conversation.
Susan: Absolutely. Now I always start with the beginning. So I’d love to know about how you got into this spirit world. You and your brother.
Andrew: Right. First let’s talk about how when we started. And so we opened the distillery in January of 2020. It was a long journey before that if you’ve ever opened a business or a particularly a business in an alcohol, there’s a lot of hoops you have to jump through before you can actually open your doors.
I’ve been working with alcohol ever since my first job. I’ve been in hospitality, my whole career. I got my undergrad in hospitality. I went and got my master’s degree in Hospitality. My family is big, big on education. My brother’s a medical doctor. He actually wanted to go into winemaking, which is something we’re going to be doing here down the road a little bit.
His journey into this, was on a trip in Oregon and they were going to a bunch of wineries. They went to the Willamette Valley and they were flying out of Portland and they stopped in Portland the night before and went to several distilleries.
My brother was looking at this stuff. My brother’s Thomas, if I referenced it, they were looking at, when I say they, it was him, his wife and his best friend and his wife. So they were looking at this business and thought, I could easily do this. This is just basic chemistry.
Susan: I love his confidence.
Andrew: Right. When I look at a distillery, I am just at the back of the house. I have no idea. He started tinkering around with some just making liqueurs out of basic off shelf, like vodkas rums, brandies, and stuff like that. And meanwhile, I am working in Memphis at the time.
Susan: Are you Louisiana boys?
Andrew: Originally, we’re from South Carolina, we were both born in South Carolina. Our Louisiana journey. I’ll get to the Louisiana journey here.
Susan: All right. Can’t wait.
Andrew: I was working in Memphis and he came to see me and he was telling me this dream he had and how he knows the back of the house, but he just doesn’t get the front of the house.
I was like, well, you’re in luck. I know somebody that can run the front of the house for you, man. And I started talking about how I’d just gotten big into cocktails. And I had just fallen in love with the classics and just reading. Everything I was doing was just revolving around drinks and cocktails and spirits and we teamed up. There was a lot of other, small things that drew us down, but our journey to Louisiana.
Susan: So, you’re both living. Where was he living at this time?
Andrew: At the time, he was in Jackson, Mississippi.
Susan: Okay, so you’re in Memphis. He’s in Jackson.
Susan: He has this idea even like he’s not busy enough being a doctor. Let’s try distillery distilling as well.
Andrew: Let’s throw something else in there yet.
Susan: Let’s throw another thing into the mix. And he calls you and says, I have this idea.
Susan: Are you like you’re crazy or sure let’s try?
Andrew: Of course, of course. But me and my brother’s relationship it’s like a lot of other brothers, if you would’ve told me 10 years ago that we would be working together. I tell you you’re insane. We are nothing alike when I say that. I mean, my brother is very, he is so smart and he talks at such a different level than I do that.
Susan: Hey, listen, I, never work with my brother, so I totally understand.
Andrew: Well, we actually, we got together and started looking at things we realized like when we taste the spirit, we go different directions with it. My brother goes, how is this made? What are the ingredients in this? What still was this made on? Where I go the opposite direction.
I think it’s a good way. You got to have both sides of that, or you’re going to have a distillery that’s not balanced. You want to have balance, or you get really, really crazy flavors that just don’t work.
Susan: That’s what makes you guys such a good team?
Andrew: Yeah. I mean, I think that’s really what it goes to is the team aspect of my brother and I, we work together very well.
We also are big rivals with everything that we do. But it’s a healthy rivalry. We always are trying to outwork each other out, taste each other. I know he doesn’t like gin, so I’m always making him stuff with gin or Agricole. And he knows I don’t like scotch. So every birthday and Christmas, I know I’m getting a bottle of scotch.
Because he’s trying to build my palette on that and hope that I find something that I like. And we’re quite successful with that. I’ll trick him all the time with cocktails and he’s like, boy, this is really good. What is this? And I’ll tell him it’s a gimlet. I didn’t like that. Yeah, no, I got, that was great. Yeah.
Susan: Well, if you weren’t such a good team, you wouldn’t still be together after a two years.
Andrew: That’s true. That’s true. All right. Well it’s more like we wouldn’t be together, for a I’m 40 years old, at 40 years. So we’ve been together for years. One of the great things that we do is we’re both never happy with anything.
And when I say that, I mean, we’re never satisfied with anything we want to be, doing things differently, making things better. He has a great quote where he’s never distilled the same way twice. Right?
Susan: No way.
Andrew: He’s the one that’s always like, Drew, we have to work on consistency, consistency, and I’m the one being consistent because the cocktail I make is the same. He was behind the bar one time and he put the wrong measurements in an Old Fashioned. And I was like, what are you doing? Throw that away. Like, we don’t serve that. You doubled the simple in there. Like no dice, can’t do it. So, I run the front, he runs to the back. Oh. So, I think I got way off track.
Susan: You were talking about how you got to Louisiana.
Andrew: Yeah. So my brother actually is the one that brought us into Louisiana. I think I mentioned earlier he was a doctor. His best friend in med school was from Louisiana and was always trying to recruit him back. They ended up going and doing their fellowship together and their residency together.
Then he moved down here and was constantly just trying to get my brother down here. He was living in Jackson, Mississippi. Jackson, Mississippi is a wonderful place. It just doesn’t have the allure of Southeast Louisiana. He was a lot closer to me then. I was living in Memphis. He was an hour away, but he moved down here. I visited him more down here.
One of the things he noticed right, when he got down here was just the lack of any local distilleries in the area. I mean, there were some, and there’s a couple of great distilleries here in the state. We’re in the Distillery Guild with a lot of them and there’s like 15.
Susan: Yeah. It’s so funny.
Andrew: Yeah, I think there’s 90 in the city of Seattle, 90 separate distilleries, and there’s 15 in the state of Louisiana. Well, let me tell you the people in Louisiana like to drink Southeast Louisiana, we liked the party down here.
Susan: And we’ll get to this, but there’s also a lot of sugar cane there.
Susan: Let’s get back to you. You all move down to, by the way, I said, y’all, I love it. I’m becoming Southern by just talking to you. Y’all decided to move to Louisiana to start a distillery. Did you and your brother have in mind what spirit you wanted to make initially?
Andrew: My brother has a book of experiments with about 150 different experiments in it. We have done like 15 of them so far, so we have barely even started with this.
Susan: Well, you said he is making liqueurs. Was that something that he thought, okay, once I have a distillery, it’s going to be a liqueur distillery or I have 150 recipes, I want to start with the one on page one, and then we’re going to go to 150. How did it work?
Andrew: So, the coffee liqueur that we started with is, it’s really fantastic. We use a local coffee roaster, and we cold brew the coffee and then combine it with our white rum and…
Susan: Wait a sec. You combine it with your white rum. You so skipped so many steps. you, I’m going to move down to Louisiana.
Susan: Okay. You break ground. You find a spot.
Andrew: All right. So well, So we’re looking around for spots. We go to several different, so we have parishes in Louisiana. We don’t have counties. It’s a great thing about down here. Everything’s a little different. As we were looking, we went to several different ones and nobody was giving us any interest. We’re in Ascension parish, in the city of Gonzales. The mayor here, not only said, yes, I’m interested. In fact, I want to help you guys. I want to see distilleries. This shows great growth in the city. not only did he encourage us, but we can call him and we have issues. I’ve told this to other distillers.
Susan: You have him on speed dial.
Andrew: Not only that, but he also comes here. I know his drink, we know each other, like when we see each other on the street, it’s not like, oh, there’s a distiller, I don’t want to talk. He’s like, bro, what’s up. And like, it’s great. I Mean, that support you don’t get anywhere else.
The great thing about Gonzales, it doesn’t really have any craft cocktail places here. You want a good drink and you live in Gonzales, you go to Baton Rouge or you go to New Orleans, Baton is about 30 minutes away. New Orleans is about 45 minutes away. Both of those cities have great cocktail bars, you can get a good cocktail, beer around here.
There’s not really a good place to have a cocktail. I mean, here’s a place right down the street that I like a lot, but you have to really know it’s there to get to it. Here we’re doing really creative cocktails. Everything is very seasonal. That’s something that I really have come up with. I don’t drink the same thing hour by hour.
It could change so quickly. I love when people ask me Drew, “what’s your favorite cocktail?” Got to tell me where I’m at. What am I doing? Am I at a cocktail party or am I on a beach? Because that’ll change what your favorite thing is all the time.
Susan: So you settled in Gonzales, you built your stills.
Susan: Did you know what your first base spirit was going to be? What were you planning to do? A vodka? Rum? What were you thinking first?
Andrew: So out of the gate, we started with vodka and the reason we started with vodka, a lot of people think vodka is this very easy spirit to make. It’s a very easy spirit to mess up. It was not easy to find the definition of vodka when we were making it It’s changed since then.
But when we first opened, the definition of vodka was an odorless flavorless, colorless spirit.
That was over 190 proof and we make ours from sugar. So ours is technically rum at 189 proof. So if you don’t get it above 190, the government will not allow you to put vodka on it. Like it’s technically rum.
Susan: That’s super interesting because usually people think of vodka being made out of potatoes, wheat, rum, malted barley, or I’m sorry, barley, all those kinds of things, corn but you’ve got sugar cane right around the corner. So you’re using that.
Andrew: Yeah. It’s what I always tell people. Like I’ve had people come to the distillery and they said, no, no, no, no, no, no. You’re wrong. Vodka has to be made from potatoes. And I’m like, you make vodka with whatever you have. That’s what people like, people make spirits with what they have available.
I mean, that’s why scotch is made Scotland. That’s what you have available. That’s why you don’t make rum in Scotland. You make rum in Caribbean, you make rum in Louisiana.
Susan: Did you bottle first?
Andrew: The vodka? Yeah. Yeah. So we opened with five spirits. Yeah. It was vodka. we opened with a white rum. So our vodka is made from a hundred percent sugar. Our white rums made from 90% sugar, 10% molasses. It’s very clean. It’s a Cuban style of rum. So a Cuban style rum’s super clean. It’s a Swiss army rum and you can use it in your mojitos.
You could use it just across the board. It’s super easy drinking it in anything. At the same time we’re making rum, we’re also putting rum away in barrel because we know we’re going to need this down the road.
Susan: Right, right.
Andrew: I get off track really quick. so, then coffee liqueur I already mentioned.
And then, we’re sourcing a bourbon and then we did an agricole style rum as well. And we didn’t call it Agricole. We called it cane juice, there is a reason for that. We feel like, eventually, in the next, I think it’s coming either this year or next year Agricole is going to be a protected like Tequila or Scotch. Champagne is the best example of that. Champagne has to come from Champagne in France. It has very specific rules, but is the same way, bourbon is very, very specific.
Susan: So you had these five and now how about the name? How did you…is it because you have sugar fields around the corner?
Andrew: Yeah. Sugar fields all around us.
Susan: It was a no brainer for you to call it that.
Andrew: We narrowed it down, whatever you do it, the part that nobody really gets, in opening a distillery, is there so many things that you don’t even think of? Do you, do you know how many logos we went through to pick this one? We went through so many and I mean, you’re down to like 10 and you’re like, I don’t like that one.
Susan: Hey, bottles, labels,
Andrew: I mean, you gotta, yeah, you gotta pick your bottles and the tops on the bottles.
Susan: So from opening to distillery to having something to sell, how long did that take?
Andrew: We got our distilling permit in, I think we got that in April. The stills we turned them on in November. That was when we got all the rest of our permits and everything that you have to have and all the stuff. So we turned it on in November with a plan to open before Christmas, and then we didn’t work. So January 4th with our opening day.
Susan: So it was January 2020. So you’re really a Covid baby.
Andrew: We are. People say, you’ve been open for two and a half years. I was like, yeah, sometimes it feels like 10 years. And sometimes it feels like 10 months, like it was, it’s such a weird time to be. And because we opened in January…
Susan: Wait a sec. Did you open in January with those five spirits already in hand?
Andrew: With those five spirits. Yeah.
Susan: You were ready to go. You want the punters to come in and you want to be able to come in?
Andrew: One thing about opening was when we opened, I have to put a cocktail menu together with this somehow. Right? You can’t just hand me five spirits and be open tomorrow. Drew, here you go. One of the really cool things about having a distillery and being into cocktails is I have the ability to change the spirit, based on the cocktail rather than the opposite of that.
So for example, we made the vodka. The first vodka that we had, we did 10 experimental bottles, or we did a bunch of experiments. I took these experiments with me and make cocktails with them. I tell people this all the time, if you have a vodka that doesn’t work in a martini that vodka doesn’t work, you can’t do it.
You got to go back and to start it over. Our vodka is made from sugar. There’s another very, Grey Goose is a fantastic vodka. I don’t like Grey Goose in a martini. I think it’s too sweet. I think it’s too sweet for a martini. I prefer other vodkas for martinis. I was really worried our vodka was going to fall in that category where it wouldn’t work with vermouths and it did not.
It went the other way. it really opened up the vermouths because it had all these extra flavors that sugar has in it. So, when you think of sugar, sugar really has like all of these beautiful flavors in it. It’s got a little vanilla and a little caramel because what they do with the sugarcane is they take that sugar cane and cook it down.
When they cook it down to make the sugar crystals that release all these beautiful flavor. When you distill it out, like some of that residual flavor remains in there and comes through in the cocktails. Our vodka works great in Bloody Mary’s. It works great across the board.
Susan: From starting the process to having it in a bottle, how long did do you think it took you to get that perfect or the way you wanted it to be?
Andrew: I get this question a lot.
Susan: You don’t have to tell us.
Andrew: No, no, no, no, no. One thing I love about distilleries and I’m not sure how many distilleries you talk to, but we’re overly transparent about everything. Like, when I talk about gin, I tell you all the botanicals I put in and I’ll tell you how I do it, my method.
When I was doing research on gin, I would go to places and they’d tell me how they did it. Show me how they did it. Tell me everything they were putting in. I was like, oh, okay, thanks. Cause we’re not worried about the competition. We want good gins out there coming from craft distilleries.
Cause that’s what you want. The same with the vodka. The vodka took, it took longer than I expected. How about that? To get it right, it took about a month of experimenting every day.
Susan: Not too long, quick.
Andrew: If you focus, like we focus on something, we’d be drinking vodka here all day and then we’d leave here and go to a bar and I would line up vodkas at the bar just cause I was wanted to sample of all their vodkas. The think, I’m crazy, they’d line them up and that’s something that nobody really does is just drink.
Knock the vodka. Neat. Just side by side. You can tell a lot of differences between vodka. The biggest difference is there’s two categories of vodka. There is good vodka and there is let’s just call it not, not so good vodka. We know where these vodkas are classified at in the good vodka category.
The nuances, the differences between these vodkas are minute. And the difference that I find is you find something you like and you stick to it. So getting somebody to go from their vodka to our vodka, what is it going to take to do that? I think it’s a couple of things. The first thing I think is you have to have a vodka there that is neutral. Neutral is important in vodka. You don’t want to have these super flavors to your vodka, cause that’s gonna mess up all the vodka cocktails. Second, you have to have mouthfeel, you want it to feel good when it’s in your mouth, which sounds funny, vodka in your mouth.
Susan: No, it doesn’t!
Andrew: It’s important. It’s got to flow through your palette correctly. And the last one, you want to make sure the next morning that you don’t regret your choices from the night before. That’s important too. And when we’re making the vodka or any of our spirits that we make, we’re very conscientious of that.
We tell people all the time, the process of making spirits is such an art form. The science behind it, Thomas had that from day one. He understands the science. What he’s really found is the art of it. When you’re distilling vodka, as it’s coming off the line at a 190 proof, we still have to taste that vodka because if there’s an issue, it’ll be in that. You’re not going to be able to tell it by the proof or the field, or it’s the smell and the taste.
I’d love to tell you that every single vodka we’ve ever made has been perfect. Nope. But I will tell you, when you make a mistake at a distillery, it’s easy to fix your mistakes because you know, what you do? You just put it back in the still and just spill it again. Yeah. Let’s try this again. Here we go.
Susan: Alright. So you got your vodka, then you decide you’re going to make rum. Right. Okay. So tell me about that process of how you thought of what rum you wanted and how that came about.
Andrew: So, I think I talked about my rum and I already called it a Swiss army rum.
Susan: Yes. Which I love by the way. I love that.
Andrew: That’s a good one, right? Yeah. So, rum is rum is such a broad category because earlier I talked about the definition of vodka. Rum is any spirit made from sugarcane that’s by definition, that’s what rum is. And a lot of people think rum is going to be naturally sweet. Then unfortunately , it’s not always the case, like our white rum. it has some vanilla notes, some caramel notes. It’s not super sweet. We don’t add any sugar to our white rum. I mean, it’s made from sugar and molasses.
The second thing about rum that we get a lot here is people think that rum is this cheap thing that you drink in college. Ah, it’s not really that great of a spirit. That’s, that’s something that we really challenge with here in this state. That is simply not true at all. That the journey of rum is really an incredible journey. The fact that we’re in Southeast Louisiana, if we didn’t make rum that would just be silly.
Susan: Right. It’s especially because you’re, as you say, you’re looking at sugar cane fields, out your door.
Andrew: The sugar cane farmers are these incredible people, that we get all of our sugar and molasses. We go to a sugar refinery and get it. We don’t go through a broker. We don’t go through anyone, we don’t get it delivered. We literally drive over there loaded up and bring it back. When I say we, it’s usually my brother and I’ve gone over there. Whenever I go over there and he didn’t like taking me a whole lot cause I’m the videographer and I’m bringing him up cameras and stuff and shooting better at.
Susan: It can’t get more local than that. That’s for sure.
Andrew: Right. No, no, no. And, as we’re pulling up to get the sugar and molasses, so you can see the sugar. I mean, it’s in the middle of a sugar field. The sugar trucks are pulling up. We know a lot of the farmers that are out there. So I talked about how our white rum is a Cuban style rum. Well, the French style of making rum is called the Agricole style, it means agricultural in French. That style is rum made from sugar cane rather than sugar and molasses.
Andrew: This is such a more unique way of making rum and I love these rums. They’re not for everybody. What you get with this style of rum is sugar cane, it’s cane. So it’s grass so you get a lot of these earth notes and a lot of grassiness. So when I say earth notes, that’s a nice way of saying tastes like dirt a little bit,
Susan: How much of the terroir really matters with the sugar cane?
Andrew: It’s funny that you bring that word up. My brother and I, the first year we had, maybe 2020 before, or actually 2019 before we opened, we knew a sugarcane farmer and he had a whole field about an acre that blew over in a storm and he couldn’t cut it with his machinery. He goes, Hey guys, if y’all want to, like, I’m just going to burn it.
If you want to come out here and harvest some of this, you’re welcome to. So me and my brother said, oh, that sounds like fun. So we grabbed some machetes, cane knives went out and, we’re hacking it up. It was me, my brother and my niece went out there. My brother-in-law went out there.
We went out there, hard, work. When I say tons, I mean, tons of sugar cane, brought it back, juiced it here at the distillery. So we have a three-roll press. We juiced it through that then we made Agricole style so that is the best example of going from the sugar cane fields into the bottle. I touched it every single step of the way.
Year number two comes around, halfway through the year. We’re like, dude, we got to figure this Agricole out this year. We gotta get back out in the fields. this is where the terroir comes in. So we were talking to this farmer across, right across the Mississippi river from us. And he has this 25,000-acre sugarcane field.
Susan: Oh boy.
Andrew: He said, come on over boys. Y’all can take all you want. It’s a drop in the ocean. We load up the trailer and we’re heading out there. We’re in my brother’s brand-new truck. And we’re driving through this field and all of the dirt is red! We were out there for about an hour cutting cane. they helped us out that day. That’s why we were in and out of there so quick.
But on the trip back, all we talked about was that red dirt. The next day, we go to a different part of the field. The dirt was black that whole day. All we talked about was terroir. Oh, God, like how much different is this cane going to be from the cane that we got yesterday? What we decided to do was to keep them separated. And it turns out that the parish line went right down the middle of the field.
The half that was red was in a different parish than the half that was the black dirt. So we separated these out, distilled them in two separate batches. And we were like, this is the best expression of terroir that you can have because everything’s the same, except literally the dirt that they came from. Now, of course, we use scientific method all the time here.
So our hypothesis was that they were going to be different and they came out very different. And the blend of the two was really excellent. And I almost wanted to just blend them together, but I was like, now, I love the terroir expression that this gives. And one of the big issues in rum is the lack of accountability on labels. It’s talked about all the time and it drives me crazy.
Susan: Yes, all of those things.
Andrew: Yeah. Adding sugar, adding, coloring, doing all this stuff, all of it. Like when you age and stuff like that, the age statements are all just a mess. We just went in total opposite way that we put complete transparency on our labels. We put what yeast we used. We put every little detail that we could. We put the coordinates. We did that on the first bottle, we put the coordinates of the field that it came from that the second time we did it, we took it from so many different places in the field. I don’t think we could put the liqueur. The field was so huge. We could put a coordinates for where this was.
Susan: Did you have any idea when you moved down to Louisiana that you would get so many local products to use in your, I know we’re only talking about sugar cane right now, butbecause I did a little bit of research. I know you make also citrus liqueurs and that the citrus is local. Had you any idea when you moved to Louisiana? That that would be so.
Andrew: Not to the level that we did it. What is really cool about having your own place is you can make it whatever you want. There was one time we were like, it might’ve been that agricole when we were talking about this, why do we do it this way? How do we want to approach this release?
We just stopped and said this is our deal. We can do it anyway we want to do it, we’re going to do it the way we want and people either appreciate it or not. And we’ll figure it out. Our approach has always been like big key value to us is keep it as local as you can.
The biggest thing is quality. Putting out a quality product is vital. If you can’t find a better, not local, go that way, but guess what? Local is almost always, but in our experience, local has been better for everything. Except if we can’t find it level, guess what doesn’t grow in Louisiana. Juniper. I can’t make gin without it.
So we work with the local spice market. We find a way to have a local twist on everything like our coffee liqueur we use a local coffee roaster. Coffee beans don’t grow here. So we, we get them roasted here. We try to always have something local about it.
Susan: For the citrus liqueurs, which citrus are you using and what grows locally?
Andrew: That’s a great thing about Southeast Louisiana. We have so much local citrus. It’s not even something that I knew was down here when I moved down here. My favorite little fruit that grows down here, it’s called a satsuma. Are you familiar with satsumas?
Susan: Like a clementine?
Andrew: Yeah. They are these great little oranges. It’s different than an orange.
It’s just like a clementine. During satsuma season, and everything says, you go to a restaurant, they’ll have like everything on the menu with satsumas.
Susan: When is that?
Andrew: It’s right around Christmas. So it’s right in the late November, all the way through about mid-January, everybody has them. They sell satsumas in grocery stores. Everybody knows that their mom has a tree or their neighbor has a tree and you just grab a bag or a grocery bags full. You just pass them out to everybody. You go to church with them and you just pay. The bank teller will have some for you when you go, it’s crazy.
Susan: I love it.
Andrew: It’s great. What we did was we captured that in a bottle. Our approach to liqueurs is we try to keep them as natural as possible. By doing that, we try to keep the spirit as close to the fruit as possible. I don’t want a satsuma that tastes like an orange. That’s a different flavor.
In fact, we actually have an orange liqueur also because we like the orange flavor too. And oranges grow around here as well, but a satsuma shouldn’t taste like fake satsuma or fake orange, I hate fake flavors.
Susan: What proof do you keep them?
Andrew: All of our fruit liqueurs are at 70 proof, which is the highest proof you can have as a liqueur. The reason for that is because actually it goes right back to the bar. I want to keep the proof on our liqueurs as high as possible, because if you can just use a liqueur as the spirit, the flavor in that spirit is gonna be. So much better.
Susan: So you have the orange, you have the satsuma. What other liqueurs do you make?
Andrew: We also have a lemon liqueur, that’s really great. We’ve done some distillery only liqueurs. We didn’t get any this year, but we did loquat liqueur. Are you familiar with what a loquat is?
Susan: I’ve heard of a kumquat, but not a loquat.
Andrew: Oh, we’ve got to kumquat liqueur as well. Loquat is like a Japanese plum.
Andrew: It’s a really interesting flavor. We basically found some trees. We have some trees planted out front now. We found some trees. This is such a cool flavor and it’s such a local flavor. Some of this fruit people don’t even appreciate it. They’re just I hate that tree! If you want to take my loquats, you can have them, because the birds are just going to eat them. Like it doesn’t matter to me. Okay, so we got all our loquats for free.
Susan: Now I have a question. Have you gone back to the loquat givers and said here, try this, this is what came out of it?
Andrew: Absolutely! We support our farmers. Like our strawberry farmer, he is awesome. Our strawberry farmer is the best example of building relationships with farmers that we have here. We started this relationship the first year we did our strawberry liqueur. We just got us number, called him, and said we needed like 15 flats of strawberries and then we made strawberry liqueur, sold out of it like that.
And so the next year we were like, we’re gonna do 50 flats this year. This past year, we did 70 flats. You call them up and just say, Hey man, I need this many flats and tells us I can get you this many by this time. And then this many by next week. And we work with him, like, we want to make sure that he has enough for the farmer’s market. He’s a strawberry farmer when his strawberry season, that’s his time to shine. And if he’s not making money, then, what’s the point?
Susan: Someone I interviewed also makes a liqueur and they said that the fruits that they need are different from the fruits that sell. So it can be the ugly ones, the trashed ones sometimes just stems, and that that might be thrown away, I’m using air quotes, can be used. So there isn’t waste.
Andrew: For the peaches, we do take the ugly fruit. Strawberries. I actually had this conversation with our farmer. I was like, do you have like B strawberries? Listen to this, by the way, he’s from Fletcher farms, his name’s William Fletcher. William said, Drew, I don’t ever have B fruit. All of my fruit is A fruit. He goes, I don’t pick B fruit, not interested in ever doing that. He goes, I give you strawberries. They’re going to be great. A strawberries every time. There’s no such thing as a grade B strawberry.
Susan: All right. I want to go to Fletcher’s now.
Andrew: Well, the great thing about that is, like I see him at the farmer’s market every week, right? I go up to talk about strawberries for a minute with them. Whenever we bottle the strawberry liqueur, he gets the first bottle. and we bring it to him and drop it off with them. And, this past year, he, he told me he didn’t get any of it. His wife got into it!
Susan: Now. All right. We’ve talked about the stuff that you had made. What’s planned for the future? Are you making anything new? I have a feeling. That’s a question that you’re definitely going to say yes to. You have 150 recipes to get through, so, yes?
Andrew: We’re just scratching the surface.
Susan: Yeah, exactly.
Andrew: Right now what we’re working on currently, we’ve got a strawberry gin that’s coming out pretty soon. It’s so good. It’s really killer. We add a strawberry to our base gin and, that’s a great thing about what we do. Like we’re not reinventing the wheel with anything. We’re just doing what nobody else has done before and use real fruit and real spices and real things. And really nobody, nobody’s doing that.
Susan: Oh, wait, you know what? You brought up your gin and we did we’ve skipped over the gin. I was interested in knowing if you use any local botanicals.
Andrew: We do not, and there’s a good reason, because the botanicals that went into our gin, none of them grow around here. So what we did was we went with a local spice company and it’s called Red Sticks Spice Company right here. So Baton Rouge in French means red stick. We went to them and said, we’re making a gin. We also went to them with our Spiced Rum and said, look, you’re the spice experts. First off with gin – It’s got to be juniper forward. I also went to about 50 different distilleries, talked to the head distillers and I don’t even want to tell you how many gins I tried.
Susan: So other than Juniper, what other things did you both, you and Red Stick think that you would want to have?
Andrew: The way we approach this was the same way we approached everything else. We did 12 different experiments and then whittle those down. And the botanicals that we went with were green cardamom, Mexican allspice, clove, white and black pepper.
One of the big, big things that I learned as I was going through my gin journey was keep it simple. Don’t overcomplicate your gin. I went to so many distilleries and they were like, I’m doing 15 different gins. My favorite one is the easiest one. It’s the simplest one makes the best drinks.
Susan: It must be really fragrant.
Andrew: It smells when you open It.
Susan: Do you smell the clove and juniper?
Andrew: Yes, You get a lot of that green cardamom, it really comes through, the white and black pepper is a really far back on your palette. You don’t smell it at all. it’s almost lost in there until you’re making it. There’s some cocktails that you can make with it. it shines through in those cocktails.
Susan: The strawberry sounds like an interesting mix with the gin.
Andrew: Yeah. So the strawberry punches up a lot of those other flavors. The cardamom and the clove really come out with the strawberry. It’s a beautiful color. And the cocktails with that gin are incredible.
Susan: I’m sure. And so we were talking about the future. So the strawberry gin, what else?
Andrew: Okay. So, one of the things that I have not really touched at all about yet is our barreling program. So right now we have a lot of things that we have barreled that are coming of age, our bourbon all of that. It’s still got another, at least another year and a half before those are mature. It’ll probably be a little longer than that.
We have released some bourbons. We’ve been sourcing bourbon since day one, completely transparent with that. We’ve been with some ryes as well, which are really interesting. The whole barreling, that is so much fun. Like that is the most fun that we have here going to these barrels and seeing where it’s coming a couple of months.
Susan: Oh yeah!
Andrew: It’s fun and it’s terrifying at the same time. We had a batch of bourbon that we had as eight barrels that we needed to be ready by April. And we tried them in February, they were not anywhere close to being where we thought they needed to be. We were terrified. So we put them away again and we said, don’t worry about it. We’re going to be all right. So we didn’t sleep for like three months. Then we tried them on their birthday and that short amount of time, they just ramped right up. They had like everything that we were looking for and barrels they had.
It was like a moment where we were like, all right, we’re gonna, we’re going to be okay here. cause if you have an order of bourbon come in and you don’t have a barrel, that’s ready. You can’t tell your distributor. I don’t know. It’s probably going to be two more years, you gotta get it out and, you don’t want to put out, we’ll never put out anything that’s not great.
We’re learning. I’ll tell you that right now, every batch that we do is better. We started a finishing series, so we’ve just released our first finishing series of, it was actually a rye was our first one. That’s the best thing we’ve released so far. The other big thing that’s come out is our aged rum series. It’s so good.
We approach rum just like we approach bourbon, except rum doesn’t need as long in the barrel, which is beneficial. It’s really, really great. And, we say we’re a rum for whiskey drinkers. We stole that too. It’s great. Rum is such a broader category than bourbon is.
It’s got to be this in-depth with rum. Do whatever you want to do, but we still are transparent about it. We’re not doing any additives; we’re not doing any colorings that’s just not something that we’re ever going to do. The other big thing last year was our first finishing barrel that we did.
We worked with a local, bourbon society and we released a charity barrel with them. We raised over $30,000 for the Leukemia-Lymphoma Society, through a release of a raw whiskey that was aged in a white port barrel and then a rum barrel. It was double finished and we called it our Twice Blessed. That’s our charity barrel that we do every year.
Susan: Are you going to do another charity barrel this year?
Andrew: Yes, we are. The charity barrel this year is going to be aged in a honey barrel and then a used port barrel. It’s so good. Let me talk about that honey barrel really quick.
Susan: Yeah, I was going to say you had me at honey barrel.
Andrew: Honey barrels in the whiskey world are barrels that are the perfect barrels in the warehouse. In your rickhouse there’s these really sweet spots and those are called your honey barrels. That’s a honey barrel. That’s one of the uses of that word.
The second use of that word is if you take a barrel, a bourbon barrel, and you fill it up with honey. That’s what we did. So we barrel aged some local honey. We actually have these out-back. Our cousins gave us the honey that went into that barrel and I actually went out and helped harvest that honey.
I was out in the bee suit and everything, and we robbed a bunch of bees of their honey. Then, I used a centrifuge here to spin it all out then loaded up a big barrel.
About honey, most people think honey is honey, it’s this really crazy thing that’s first made by bees and then as humans, we steal it and never goes bad. It also leeches any moisture. So if you fill a barrel with that, you have to take it out and hydrate that barrel every day.
So there was somebody at the distillery every day that was just watering this thing down and trying to keep some moisture in this barrel. Unfortunately it this barrel failed miserably and we emptied the honey out of it and reclaimed that honey.
Then we tried to save the barrel. We were a little bit successful. We were successful enough to take another barrel of bourbon and put in that barrel. We kept it in there for, I want to say 60, 90 days, something like that. I think it was about three months and that entire three months, me and my brother watched this barrel just drip every day.
We were just, God, this is literal money down the drain here. It was right over a drain, just dripping. Finally we were just like, I’ve had enough of this, let’s pull this and put it in. We had these fresh barrels that had just been emptied out. Boom hit it. filled those back up.
We designated that this year’s charity barrels. So, that’ll be coming out this, I believe that’s this July just a way to help out. This year we’re helping women’s cancer. Last year was Lymphoma-Leukemia. This year is women’s cancer. Next year I believe we’re doing prostate cancer.
Susan: That’s really wonderful.
Andrew: yeah. Yeah, it’s just, it’s a way to help everybody out.
Susan: Well, also, you haven’t said it yet, but a little bird told me that you were going into cider making.
Andrew: Yeah. Yeah. actually right across the street right there. We have a cidery and a winery that we’re opening and we have some friends that are opening a brewery with us. So we’re going to have beer, wine, cider, and spirits over here. I told you we had bees, so I think we’re going to probably do some mead at some point.
Susan: It’s like a one-stop shop there in Gonzales, Louisiana.
Andrew: That’s it that’s the plan.
Susan: You stay and you never leave because there’s too much good stuff.
Andrew: Well, yeah. All these people that are going to Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Hey guys, you’ve got it in your backyard now.
Susan: In such a short time, really.
Andrew: Well, it’s been two and a half so far.
Susan: Well, congratulations. I just can’t wait to get down there. It just sounds divine. And I’m looking at the bottles behind you. I just want to say up right now and I just want to try that honey. It sounds great.
Now I always ask two questions before I leave. And one of them and you are the perfect person. I think you’re gonna have lots, lots for this, but I always ask for your top tip for the home bartender.
Andrew: So the thing I see from, home bartenders, they always cut corners. They always go and buy fruit juices. Squeeze that juice, squeeze that lemon juice. That’s the biggest difference between home cocktails here. I break everything else down to two-minute, little things here.
Nobody else can do. Like, we make our own bitters here. I cut my own ice here. all the syrups are made in house here. You don’t have to do all that. Make your simple syrup, but outside of simple syrup, like if you want to buy a different syrup, buy a different syrup. But fruit juice, that stuff. That’s the biggest one.
Susan: all right, great. And also, and I have a feeling that you’re going to say home for this one, but if you could be anywhere drinking anything right now, what would that be and where would you be?
Andrew: that’s, that’s such a good question. the thing I like most about that question is I can, this can change by the minute with me, but it would be, I don’t care what it is. Just drinking something with my wife. My wife’s favorite cocktail is the Old Fashioned. You can’t beat that. So drinking an Old Fashioned with my wife and, it’s starting to get hot here. So let me tell you, I’d love to be up in the mountains, drinking an Old Fashioned with my wife.
Susan: Okay, that sounds great. Well, thank you so much for being here. This has been super.
Andrew: Thank you for having me. It’s been a lot of fun over here, too.
Susan: Absolutely. I can’t wait to get down there and see you in real life.
Andrew: Yeah. Anytime you are around.
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