Jul 30, 2013 21:51 Getting in the Spirits in La. Getting in the Spirits in La. Advocate staff photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ -- Owners Trey Litel, left, Tim Litel and Skip Cortese, of Lacassine rum maker Louisiana Spirits, show off their rum and company truck outside Hotel Monteleone where they were pursuing business. La. rum distillery gains momentum BY TED GRIGGS| Advocate business writer July 30, 2013 Comments It took a year longer than expected, but this month Lacassine-based Louisiana Spirits Distillery began retail sales of its rum in more than 1,000 retail outlets statewide. Already the company is among the country’s largest private-label rum distilleries. “Originally we kind of targeted a 20,000- to 60,000-case market. We’re on a run rate now where we’re looking at about 100,000 cases,” said co-owner and Baton Rouge businessman Tim Litel. The company’s other owners are Trey Litel, who serves as president, and Skip Cortese, also a Baton Rouge businessman. Their philosophy, Tim Litel said, has always been to base the company’s growth on the size of the opportunity, rather than planning small and then reacting. Early-stage businesses frequently see more opportunities as they gain a little momentum. The more they learned about the rum business, the larger the potential market appeared. While pleased about those prospects, the partners first had to make sure their rum had the right flavor. The company spent a lot of money on consultants with rum expertise, including a master blender who helped to create the company’s spiced rum profile. Louisiana Spirits also tested its rums with consumers and industry members. “We did some blind tastings, and we know we did very, very well — and that was a relief, by the way,” Litel said. The company also tweaked its raw materials; added pasteurization to its process, a step many distillers don’t take; and invested in a lab, so that quality control and analysis was done on each batch, ensuring a consistent taste. Louisiana Spirits added processes to make the company more “green.” The firm had planned to dispose of the vainasse, the leftover material from making the alcohol, on land or put it into an oxidation pond. That proved impossible. Instead, the company sells the waste material to Westway Feed Products after putting it through an evaporator system. The system cost around $500,000. The “heads,” the waste alcohol from the first part of distillation, is sold to a specialty chemical company that uses the material in cleaning products. All of which is to say Louisiana Spirits is ecologically sound, Trey Litel said. Along the way, the cost of the venture grew from the original estimate of $3 million to around $10 million. With their recipes in place, the company signed a distribution deal with Republic National Distribution. Louisiana Spirits is hoping last week’s efforts at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans will serve as a launch pad for its first two products, Silver Bayou Rum and Spiced Bayou Rum. The five-day event draws 6,000 bartenders, not to mention media, from all over the world. Louisiana Spirits’ marketing efforts included a tasting room where Tales attendees could sample the company’s rum and maybe rub elbows with “Swamp People” star Troy Landry. It also had a streetside rum sampling and a Meet the Craft Distillers event. Trey Litel said it’s difficult to assign a value on the Tales’ exposure. “Oh my gosh. It’s not very often that you get to get in front of 6,000 bartenders from across the globe,” he said. “For us to reach a portion of those people, because not all 6,000 will fit into our tasting room, is amazing for the brand.” The company has already fielded inquiries from France and Canada — countries with an affiliation with Louisiana — about importing the rum. But Louisiana Spirits doesn’t plan to launch an export business anytime soon. The company doesn’t want to dilute its focus. For now Louisiana Spirits will concentrate on sales in Louisiana, and then the other 20 states served by Republic National Distribution. In Baton Rouge, Louisiana Spirits’ products are carried in Calandro’s Supermarket, the Camelot Club, Cuban Liquor, the Bet-R Store, Calvin’s Bocage Supermarket, Albertson’s, Martin Wine Cellar and Matherne’s Supermarket. Trey Litel said he couldn’t discuss sales so far other than the response has been good. The first shipment consisted of about 1,400 cases. There are 12 750-ml bottles per case and 24 200-ml bottles per case. Cuban Liquor Manager Mark Suchanek said the rum has been moving well for a new product. A lot of times, new items just sit on the shelves, he said. “I haven’t sold 20 cases, but it’s doing all right,” Suchanek said.