BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — Olivia Stewart, owner of Oxbow Rum Distillery in Baton Rouge, wants consumers to think about rum differently.
“My dream for Oxbow Rum Distillery is to really kind of be the authority of craft rum in America,” Stewart said.
She is ready to make rum to Louisiana what bourbon is to Kentucky.
“What we’re trying to do is just have a completely pure rum with higher proofs and show people that rum can be sipped and enjoyed just like a bourbon,” Stewart said.
Once considered the liquor of pirates, sailors, and other hard-drinking men, rum remains a popular spirit today because of its low price point, but it comes with hidden costs.
“One of the first things I learned when coming on board was that so many other rum brands, famous rum brands from the Caribbean, add all this coloring and sugar and caramel and they don’t have to claim it,” Stewart said.
The vast majority of rums in the market use molasses, but it is typically the lowest grade molasses (which is also used for animal feed). The reason? It’s cheaper. And because it’s so cheap, producers can sell their products at a lower price point which means more people will buy them.
Oxbow uses high-grade molasses, from the first boiling.
“It just seemed unfair that we were doing it in a pure, honest way, but not really getting the credit for it because consumers don’t necessarily know that there’s a reality of rum,” Stewart said.
Oxbow makes a variety of rums, one of which Stewart is particularly fond of.
“This is our cane juice rum, which I’m now calling Rhum Louisiane, to give it a sense of place,” she said. “The Agricole rum is a rare form of rum made from fresh-pressed cane juice. You have to be close to the source to make it.”
Just up the road from Oxbow, in Pointe Coupee Parish, is Alma Farm & Mills.
“Alma has been in my family since 1859 and since then, we’ve been growing sugar cane and making sugar,” Stewart said.
From field to glass, sugar cane harvested at Alma is the primary ingredient in Oxbow rums. As one of Louisiana’s main crops, sugar cane is pivotal to the state’s economy and accounts for about 20% of all sugar produced in the United States.
“I hope rum can serve as an avenue or a vehicle to educate people about sugar cane and sugar and just this important crop to our state,” Stewart said.