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3-Course Interview: Beth Donner of Donner-Peltier Distillers

Scott Gold talks with a distiller of craft vodka, gin and other spirits

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In business for just over a year, Donner-Peltier Distillers (www.dpdspirits.com) in Thibodaux crafts vodka, gin and several styles of rum from local ingredients. Beth Donner, co-founder and president, talked to Gambit about keeping Louisianians in fine spirits.

How did you wind up buying a distillery in Thibodaux?

Donner: I never thought I'd be an owner of a distillery five years ago. I was a house mom, though I do have an MBA. But a few years ago, over cocktails on vacation, my husband Tom asked, "Why, in the middle of a sugar cane field in Thibodaux, is no one making rum?" So we went to a lot of classes and visited a lot of distilleries and the interest kind of spread from there. We wound up buying a 3,000-liter still, hiring an experienced distiller, making blueprints for the building and going through the process of getting all the state, federal and local permits that you need to operate this kind of business. It took about two and a half years before we were up and running. We initially thought about just being a rum distillery, but because I personally like vodka — and since there are more vodka drinkers than rum drinkers — we decided to expand into other spirits.

How do you use local ingredients?

D: We distill our vodka, called Oryza, from rice that we get from Rayne, which makes for a very unique product. It has a creamy finish. The word "oryza" actually means rice in Latin. It's a neutral spirit, but it does have a little bit of sweetness to it from the rice, which makes it a little different.

  We also craft a gin (also called Oryza) based on the vodka distillate that we add botanicals to. But to give it a local flair we add local cantaloupe and satsumas, as well as juniper, lavender, horse root, coriander and other flavors. For the first batch, we actually got the satsumas from my backyard.

  To make our rums, we get sugar from a mill that's a mile and a half from the distillery. We don't use any extracts — just raw molasses and raw sugar. For our praline-flavored spiced rum, Rougaroux 13 Pennies, we use cane syrup that's made in Schriever. We toast pecans that we get in Alexandria, and then we use actual vanilla beans. The finished rum smells like a praline, and it's not overly sweet, but it's an 80 proof rum, and you taste the pecans on the back side — as unique and distinctive as a praline. With some spiced rums, you don't really taste the alcohol, all you get is the sweetness. This is a rum where the rum flavor comes through as well as the natural flavors added.

What has been the local reaction?

D: It's been really fun seeing it take off in New Orleans — seeing our products on the drink menus at local bars and restaurants. Lu (Brow) at the Swizzle Stick has been an awesome supporter, as well as Abigail (Gullo) at SoBou, Marvin (Allen) at the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone and others. During Christmas at the Sazerac Bar, they made a hot buttered rum with the praline rum. It was really delicious. The Swizzle Stick is making a dirty rice martini. I'm prejudiced, but even if I wasn't one of the owners of this distillery, that's really my favorite drink, an Oryza martini. But Lu takes it to another level. She adds a little dehydrated celery, salt, bell pepper and cayenne and garnishes it with pickled okra, tomato, onion and andouille sausage. It's a meal in itself. — Scott Gold

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