Cajun Spirits distills the essence of local
For brothers Gus and Ed Haik, distilling is a family affair, one that keeps its sights squarely on the city they call home.
The idea first came to Gus during his Navy years, during which he became familiar not only with the distilling techniques required to transform seawater into his ship’s drinking supply but just as importantly, the joys of shore leave. With each port of call came the chance to sample a local spirit. Having grown up in a city famous for cocktails, Ed wondered why New Orleans didn’t follow the same supply model. “Why isn’t there’s something like this at home?” he recalls.
Trading his sea legs for terra firma, Gus landed a stint at Old New Orleans Rum, then the only game in town. However, recent changes in Louisiana’s legislation have paved the way for a spate of distilleries, and in 2011, Gus purchased a 10,500-square-foot warehouse in the corridor along I-10 between Broad and Claiborne Avenues.
When it became clear that creating a distillery was going to require another pair of hands, Gus reached out to brother Ed, then an elementary school teacher. Two years ago, the pair produced their first batch of vodka. While acknowledging that launching the small business has required financial stretches and DIY sweat (aside from a recently acquired intern, Gus and Ed are Cajun Spirits Distillery) the Haiks remain committed to distilling. Having grown up hearing stories of times when factory jobs were plentiful, the brothers see Cajun Spirits Distillery as a chance, albeit on a small scale, to help re-ignite New Orleans’ manufacturing sector.
“Sourcing local is a priority,” says Gus. With few exceptions, Cajun Spirits uses Louisiana ingredients, such as sugar cane and molasses. Such localization also means Cajun keeps complete oversight. Unlike larger brands that may be involved in just one step of the process, Cajun Spirits is manufactured entirely on site—from simple syrup to labeling. It’s a local dedication that extends to the homespun names of Cajun’s three spirits: Crescent Vodka; Third Ward Gin (named for the distillery’s location); and Tresillo Rum, an homage to the Afro-Caribbean beat that underscores hometown songs like “Mardi Gras Mambo.”
At Cajun Spirits’ heart is a stunning hammered copper 315-gallon Arnold Holstein combination pot/column still. A decidedly smaller eight-gallon still allows for experimental batches. The Haiks emphasize flavor during fermentation—an approach that requires a high degree of monitoring (read: taste, wait, taste again, wait, taste yet again, etc.) rather than relying on added flavor during distillation. It’s a style that, according to Gus, mirrors the kind of “nuance and subtlety” winemakers strive for.
“It’s the whole process that appeals,” says Ed, “the magic of fermentation, the distilling, the blending. And at the end, you have a physical product.”
Cajun Spirits Distillery
2532 Poydras St., New Orleans
Tasting & tours by appointment. 504.875.3592 or email@example.com
Note: Crescent Vodka can be found at Whole Foods and Rouse’s and at assorted bars throughout the city. Third Ward Gin and Tresillo Rum available only through the distillery.