What do you get when you mix a neurosurgeon, a pediatrician and a guy who dubs himself, “The Mad Scientist?”
That’s an easy one – you get lots of freshly made rum, vodka and our area’s only distillery.
Founded by Tom Donner and Henry Peltier, Donner-Peltier Distillers is busy trying to stake its claim in the adult beverage game.
With its Oryza Vodka available at stores and bars and Rougarou Rum soon to follow, the local distillery is proudly laying its roots from its Thibodaux home.
“We’re trying to take advantage of what we have in our great state,” Peltier said. “Initially, we’ve been spread locally in Houma-Thibodaux. But we’re getting more products pushed into Lafayette, Baton Rouge and New Orleans, too.”
Vodka and rum are the two signature products of the local distillery at this time.
Named from the Latin word for “rice,” Donner-Peltier’s Oryza vodka holds that name because it is created with Louisiana rice, which is said to give a distinctive flavor to the liquor.
With rum, Donner-Peltier will offer customers two options.
The first is called Sugar Shine, which is a 101-proof clear rum with a bold, molasses flavor.
“It’s not meant for sipping because it’s a higher proof,” Peltier said. “But it mixes really well with fruit juices.”
The second product is Full Moon, which is a darker, 80-proof rum.
“It’s got a softer, smoother flavor, which can lend to it being either mixed or sipped,” he said. “It’s delicious by itself.”
The idea to open a distillery in the Tri-parish area was bred from a vacation conversation amongst friends.
Peltier said that during a family trip, Donner shifted the conversation toward sugar cane and its abundance in southeastern Louisiana.
“But yet nobody here made rum,” Peltier said. “We just sort of agreed that that’d be a really great thing to do. So we sort of stewed on that for a while and in the next few months, the idea just never died – we just kept talking about it, looking into it and doing some research.”
When the idea started to gather steam, Peltier said the two families visited other distilleries and attended seminars to gather information regarding how to start a distillery.
“It just sort of went from there,” Peltier said. “We just kept pushing the idea until we moved forward with securing land, building a building and buying equipment and everything necessary.”
The building, equipment and ambition are all fabulous. But it means very little without an experienced distiller who can turn rice and sugar cane into smooth vodka and rum.
That’s where the Mad Scientist comes into play.
When Donner-Peltier got its building lined up, they hired veteran distiller John Couchot to work his magic on the company’s products.
The reason Couchot is referred to by the quirky nickname is because of his background.
Couchot owns a degree in chemistry and he used to work in pharmaceuticals.
But he said he’s been brewing for 27 years and distilling professionally for seven years.
His work has earned him countless awards in competitions in multiple countries.
“Getting him was very important for us,” Peltier said. “He’s a true expert – he really knows what he’s doing.”
Couchot explained the process of converting rice and sugar cane into liquor – a complicated sequence that involves cooking, cooling, adding enzymes, adding yeast, fermentation and distilling.
A step-by-step list would do the complexities no justice.
At the end of the day, he said experience is what allows someone to “feel it” and come up with the right recipe.
“Anytime you distill, you have three parts – your heads, your hearts and your tails,” Couchot said. “The heads are like acetates and acetones. They don’t taste good. We get rid of those. We keep our hearts, which are the ethanol and flavor. The tails are the higher alcohols and we get rid of those, too, so we get a nice, clean product.
“The biggest way you can tell the difference between the three is pretty much experience. Just having done it before is a big key.”
Those wanting to get Donner-Peltier products have a few options. The first is to check local bar rooms and stores, as they are beginning to make their appearances throughout the area.
The second way is straight from the tap.
The local distillery features a welcome lounge where customers can stroll in and enjoy the products.
Peltier said the room is not to be mistaken with a bar or a nightclub. But it will be open from “around noon to 6,” on most days.
“We want people to be able to come by and do tours and have tastings,” Peltier said. “We want to open our facility up to things like that.”
Everyone around the product is excited – the Mad Scientist believes he has created a monster set to tame the world of rum and vodka.
“I’m really excited,” Couchot said. “We’re creating a great thing and we’re using all local products. … We have really fresh ingredients and it’s just really exciting because you can really taste our area in the ingredients.”