Rum has never been one of my favorite spirits—too sweet for my tastes. On a recent trip to New Orleans, though, a friend and I toured the Old New Orleans Rum Distillery
, located in a former cotton warehouse on Frenchman Street. It's a couple miles from the French Quarter, but they offer free shuttle service (in an air-conditioned van, which is important in New Orleans in June), plus the tour is only $10.
The inside of the distillery is not air-conditioned—but we were given cups of iced tea spiked with their spiced rum to drink while Bob the tour guide showed us the vats of molasses, bottling room, and still.
The company was started in the early 90s by artist James Michalopoulos, who teamed up with several musician friends to experiment with distilling and finally build a combination pot and column still (which they continue to use).
They moved into their current digs in 1995 and started selling their first white rum in 1999; they now have have four rums: white, amber (aged three years), ten-year, and Cajun Spice, which uses the amber as a base and is laced with cayenne, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves.
After the tour we got tastes of all of them—and I discovered rum that I not only liked, but was smooth enough to drink straight. OK, not the white rum—that's made for mixing, not sipping—but the amber, ten-year, and Cajun Spice varieties were all surprisingly good.
The distillery has also started making something they call Gingeroo, a ginger ale mixed with rum, that reminded me of my recent experiments with making ginger syrup
. I bought a bottle of the Cajun Spice rum, which has a honeyed flavor with a mild spice kick on the finish, and once I got home I tried mixing it with ginger syrup, sparkling water, and lemon. Sure enough, it was quite similar to the Gingeroo. (Pro tip: this works well with lime- or lemon-flavored sparkling water. Raspberry lime flavor, not so much.)
Old New Orleans rum is available at several bars, restaurants, and stores in Chicago, including the Violet Hour, Bar DeVille, Longman & Eagle, Blue 13, Northdown Cafe & Tap Room, Union Sushi & Barbeque, Printers Row Wine Shop, Gentile Wine Shop, and Rogers Park Fine Wines & Spirits.