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Drink up: Old New Orleans Rum

My House NOLA has partnered with NolaVie to bring you the inside scoop on the burgeoning mobile food industry in New Orleans. Each week we will bring you an article featuring different industry faces -- from food truck entrepreneurs to pop-up chefs; then, at the end of each week, we will share a recipe from the same entrepreneur. Up this week: Old New Orleans Rum:

Name: Jason Coleman

Business: Old New Orleans Rum

Old New Orleans Rum, the stepchild of the spirits world, was born in the back streets of the New Orleans 9th Ward, conceived by a band of artists and musicians better known for consumption than fabrication. By dint of perseverance and their love of the good life, they managed to start production of what are now considered some of the world’s best rums.

James Michalopoulos, a New Orleans-based artist, is the founder of Celebration Distillation. Inspired by a Swiss friend who entertained guests with spirits she made with fruit picked from her garden, Michalopoulos decided to use the obvious regional crop to create his own spirits in Louisiana — sugar cane. Flush from a successful European painting tour, he invested in a rum fabrication experiment, and with several musician friends he cobbled together a still in a 9th Ward kitchen.

After two years of distillation and engineering studies and plenty of trial and error, it was time to scale up. They constructed their own unique combination pot and column still, which enabled the crew to create robust flavor and also achieve purity and control over the process. Then in 1995, Old New Orleans Rum purchased an ancient cotton warehouse on Frenchmen Street and was refitted to function as the company's home.

Designing and building the equipment as they went, the experiments continued. After what seemed like 1,000 false starts, they discovered a fermentation process that produced the savor they craved. In 1999, the first white rum was put on the market and over time, it became known as Old New Orleans Crystal. This Crystal Rum begat Old New Orleans Amber Rum, and from this aged Amber rum came Old New Orleans Cajun Spice Rum. By the millennium, this band of brigands had become one of the world’s best rum makers, with gold medals to prove it.

Inside the Old New Orleans Rum distillery.

Inside the Old New Orleans Rum distillery.

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My House NOLA: What is your culinary or mixology or distillation background experience?

Jason Coleman: I started my work with liquor through a run of the mill bartending job. I then fell in love with the industry and interned for Tales of the Cocktail while I was still in college. The internship enabled me to meet some of the most fantastic spirits industry folks in the world, many of whom live in New Orleans.

MHN: Why rum? 

JC: Rum is a product of sugar cane, which is a local product that we want to showcase. A large number of distilleries are starting to pop up around Louisiana, and I believe that they are making rum for the same reason. I have always said that a rising tide floats all ships. We are the oldest premium rum distillery in America, but I am excited about the competition. I hope that we’ll help Louisiana to be known as the rum capital of the USA.

MHN: What was the hardest part about getting started? The easiest?

JC: Regardless of what you can prepare for, opening a distillery will always bring surprises. The initial process of creating a delicious spirit takes years, if not longer. For every bottle that makes its way to the shelf, 30 are discarded in the experimentation and development phases.

The easiest thing about getting our business out there is the paradise that we call home. New Orleans is the most amazing city in the world, and we are lucky to be here. New Orleans knows how to party. I do not mean the all out, binge party that people seem to associate with our town. New Orleans is home to the most innovative, supportive, and loyal people in the hospitality industry; we are all here to help and challenge each other in our growth.

gingeroo

Old New Orleans Rum's Gingeroo, the company's premixed beverage made with their own rum.

MHN: What is the favorite cocktail or alcohol to create?

JC: Gingeroo is the project that is occupying the majority of my time at the moment. I really love having the chance to get my hands dirty and create a product that I really believe in. I think that Gingeroo is making its own category and that it can truly start a nationwide trend. We want to change the perception of ready-to-drink cocktails. Just because it is premixed does not mean that it is an overly sugared, processed mess of a cocktail. We like to say that we make the cocktail just like any other bartender, we just use a 500 gallon shaker.

MHN: Where do YOU like to eat?

JC: I am a huge fan of Mid City. Toup’s Meatery is one of my go-to spots for amazing food and a cocktail or two. I also really love to catch a food truck for some good eats.

Check back on Thursday for Old New Orleans Rum's recipe for "the king cake cocktail," using their Cajun Spiced Rum.