It might seem surprising, given New Orleans' long and storied love of fine spirits, that there hasn't been an aged whiskey produced in Louisiana since the days of Prohibition. Donner-Peltier Distillery — the Thibodaux-based maker of craft rums, vodka and gin — is looking to change that, with the introduction of their "LA1 Louisiana Whiskey."
Operating for only a couple of years now, Donner-Peltier has made a name for itself by using locally-sourced ingredients, including sugarcane and pecans to make spiced rum, rice for its Oryza vodka, and botanicals such as satsuma and even cantaloupe to flavor gin. (More on that in Gambit's interview with Beth Donner here.)
Why move into whiskey territory? “It’s something that is really part of the micro-distillery industry right now," said Tom Donner, one of the distillery's founders. "Every distillery seems to want to do a whiskey. It has the reputation of being an all American drink, and we really appreciate that. For us, a big part of it too was an expansion of our product line. It was a natural progression to want to make a whiskey."
The 94-proof spirit is, like bourbon and most Tennessee whiskeys, aged in charred American oak barrels. Unlike those other American spirits, however, LA1 contains not three, but four grains (five if you count two distinct varieties of barley). While most bourbons are a combination of corn (a minimum of 51%, by law), malted barley and either rye or wheat, the newest member of the American whiskey world will contain corn, rye, and barley as well as local rice.
“It’s a tip of the hat to Louisiana farmers," said Donner on the decision to incorporate rice in LA1. "We have a strongly stated mission to support Louisiana farmers. Everything we make is going to have Louisiana agriculture in it. There’s not an extensive amount of barley and rye in Louisiana that’s suitable for distilling, but as it turns out, [rice] adds a lovely sweetness in there that we really liked."
Not that you'll soon be able to find LA1 on the shelves of your local liquor store. "We're getting ready to start an expansion on the distillery entirely dedicated to whisky production," Donner said. "Now that we have the recipe down, we’re going into full production once we complete our expansion. We're planning a full release throughout the state by Christmastime."
Until then, noted Donner, limited quantities of the single barrel, unblended whiskey will available directly from the distillery via a waiting list. "We're releasing the half-dozen barrels distilled in 2013 as soon as they’re ready," said the distiller. “If you just give us a call and get on the list, your chance of tasting LA1 is 100%."
It should also be noted that LA1 isn't technically the "first" barrel-aged whiskey to be distilled in Louisiana since Prohibition, although it is the first legal one. Said Donner, “We’ve had some characters come by the distillery to tell us that they beat us to the punch. I’ve had at least three or four guys tell me that we needed to call it ‘LA2’ because of the whiskey that they’d made in their garage.”