About a half hour northwest of Baton Rouge, surrounded by sugarcane fields, is the Alma Sugar Plantation & Sugar Mill.
It processes sugar from nearly 50,000 acres of sugarcane grown across South Louisiana, with much of that ending up in packets and five-pound bags on your grocery store shelves.
But not all of it. Walter Tharp, whose family owns the mill, diverts a portion of that sugar for making rum at a gleaming new distillery and tasting room that opened last spring near the banks of the Mississippi in Downtown Baton Rouge.
Tharp spent years planning the distillery — the idea of which took root when he attended a wedding held by a sugarcane-growing and rum-distilling family in Central America. They asked him, “Why don’t you make rum?” He initially dismissed the question — “We don’t make candy bars, either,” he remembers thinking — but the idea began to gnaw at him. Why not?
So after years of obstacle jumping, site scouting and permit applying, he hired distiller Jonny ver Planck and ordered an impressive copper still from Vendome Copper & Brass Works, the nation’s premier fabricator of stills. He also studied up on technique and learned the importance of resting and aging his distillate before it goes into the bottles. So he bought several 5,000-gallon wooden vats once used by cognac makers in France, had them dismantled and shipped, then flew in four French coopers, who spent five days reassembling them. (He’s also employing some used Rémy Martin cognac casks for aging.)
Today, Cane Land Distilling sells four styles of rum, including a traditional molasses-based rum, a Martinique-style rhum agricole (made from fresh-pressed sugarcane) a spiced rum and a cinnamon rum. (He also makes a vodka from sugarcane, and sells a whiskey “imported” by riverboat down the Mississippi).
“Rum’s on the rise across the board,” Tharp says, “and if you really are going to get into rum, you’ve got to go all the way.”
Available in Louisiana Rouses Markets.