by Spencer Valdespino, Writer & Videographer
The sweet scent of molasses and whiskey quickly fill the nostrils of customers who walk in. The small lobby has seating for about ten people–standing room for maybe 50. The walls are decorated with the award-winning liquor bottles. Souvenirs of glasses, sweaters, t-shirts and alcohol are also on display for customers to consider buying. Clear glass windows let on-lookers view the room where the liquor is
Welcome to DONNER-PELTIER DISTILLERIES.
This local establishment is fully reliant on locally homegrown components. They use all natural Louisiana grown ingredients in all of their spirits and are involved with everything from its raw ingredients to the bottling process.
“This may be the longer process, but the final product that is made is well worth it,” says Taryn Naquin Clement, Donner-Peltier’s manager.
The distillery is popular for its three different brands: Oryza, LA 1 and Rougaroux. They have six different spirits: vodka, gin, whiskey and three rums.
The following three spirits are all rums and have the same title name with different subheadings to be distinguished from each other. The title name for the trio is called ROUGAROUX, after the Cajun folklore werewolf. The story goes that this Cajun wolf has the head of a wolf and the body of a human and it lurks in the deep parts of sugarcane fields found in southern Louisiana. Like most wolf tales, the Rougaroux will come out during a full moon, which explains the name of the Donner Peltier-Distilleries’ spirit, FULL MOON DARK RUM.
The Rougaroux’s lair can be found in the swamps and canes of the south. Staying true to the legend, gold eyes piercing through sugarcane is the image on the front of the bottle. This rum is aged on white oak for smoothness and flavor.
According to legend, the only way to see a Rougaroux in full form is if it about to eat or put a curse on someone. If a curse is cast, it will last for 101 days which is where SUGARSHINE CLEAR RUM comes into play.
This 101 proof rum is strong like a moonshine but sugar and molasses are used to make it. The ingredients are raw sugars and bold molasses that is both grown and milled from a family-owned farm two miles from the distillery.
A way to stay safe from this “worldly” creature is possible. A Rougaroux in human form can be identified by having six fingers on each hand. Legend has it that if a family puts 13 pennies outside their door, the Rougaroux will start to count them before entering a home but once he reaches 12, he gets confused and begins to start over. He repeats this until the sun comes up which is when he must go back to his lair in the sugarcane field. ROUGAROUX 13 PRALINE RUM is named after this part of the story.
The local aspect is, once again, brought together in this specific rum by using local raw sugar, molasses and craft-made cane syrup.
The legend exists to this day and Donner-Peltier Distillery can be found with 13 pennies sitting outside their door, considering there is a sugarcane field sitting directly across from them.
Not fully reliant on just rum, DPD is home to other crafts as well.
ORYZA VODKA: With three different steps in creating “this masterpiece” vodka, Donner-Peltier does not cut corners to make it. Each vodka is made by hand, one batch at a time and with the use of locally grown rice, considering “Oryza” is Latin for rice. Rice is used in these spirits for two reasons, one being the homegrown effect of the distillery. The company purchases its rice from Acadian Riceville just outside Lafayette keeping with Louisiana ingredients. The second reason is that no other companies use rice to make vodka. Most will use grain but more prefer corn.
“By using a completely new ingredient that no else is doing, it sets us apart,” explains Clement as she distributes small plastic shot cups to the customers for tasting. “This brings more characteristics to our vodka when most others are so neutral.”
This specific vodka is one of only two rice-made vodkas in the United States. It has won the Gold Medal World Spirits Award, and it’s most recent and highest accolade came last year when it was awarded a double gold in “The Fifty Best Vodka” competition.
ORYZA GIN: By law, for a drink to be considered gin, it must have a certain amount of juniper berries. After that, anything can be added to the concoction and DPD does just that. This Louisiana-gin uses 11 botanicals that, like most gin made, includes juniper, lavender, pink peppercorn, oris root, angelica root, paradise seed, cantaloupe, lemon and orange peels. But the ingredient that ties this gin closer to the Louisiana culture is satsuma.
“Everyone in Louisiana has a satsuma tree in their backyard,” Clement says with a laugh in-between words. Obviously an exaggeration, but not by much. “We usually grab about 500 satsumas from my grandfather’s tree here in Thibodaux to use in the gin.”
Keeping up the trend of award winning liquor, Oryza Gin has a total of four awards, the most recent being in 2015 when it won gold at the Beverage Testing Institute.
LOUISIANA 1 WHISKEY: The most popular and historical spirit that DPD has to offer is the whiskey. Not only named after Highway 1 that runs parallel with the distillery, LA1 gets its name from being the first aged whiskey in Louisiana since the prohibition ended in 1933. This specific whiskey can be found with four special ingredients inside it: barley, corn, rice and rye. According to the Donner-Peltier homepage, barley is used for the balance and for a cocoa taste, rye is used for spice, corn for the body and of course, local rice for the sweetness.
“It’s incredible to think that this is the first aged whiskey since prohibition because down south, we have some heavy whiskey drinkers,” explains Clement.
This 94 proof whiskey has won three awards since being on the shelf, with the most recent won in 2014 at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, bringing home a gold medal to Thibodaux, La.
And home is where it’s stays. The Donner-Peltier Distillery continues to supply its award winning rums using local ingredients, drawing inspiration from local legend and churning out fresh ideas, just like the idea that started it all.
Legend has it that the owners, Beth and Tom Donner and Henry and Jennifer Peltier, went for a trip together to Idaho, and during their stay visited a distillery. While sipping on rum, it hit them that rum is made from sugarcane.
“How has no one made rum in Thibodaux when there are sugarcane fields all around us?” Henry Peltier asked with a confused look on his face. “It doesn’t make sense.”
As some say, the rest is history.