We have seen over the past few years an increase in the number of small distilleries in the USA making craft rum. Tucked away in the small town of Paulina, Louisiana, at the end of a breathtaking drive surrounded by sugarcane fields, is a little piece of heaven called River Road Distillery, owned by Mr. Tom Kliebert . Luis and I had the pleasure of visiting the distillery and staying at the Bed and Breakfast next door. What a fantastic way to get some R&R and drink some good local rum!
I am very pleased to share with our readers this exclusive interview with Mr. Kliebert. I hope many of them will have the opportunity to go out and visit River Road Distillery, taste their rum, relax at the B&B and experience authentic Louisiana hospitality.
I wish Mr. Kliebert and his team much success and I look forward to repeating the experience in the near future.
Margaret Ayala, Publisher
What is your full name, title, company name and company location?
Tom Kliebert, I am part owner and the distiller for River Road Distillery located in Paulina, Louisiana on the River Road situated on the Mississippi River.
Can you tell us a little bit about River Road Distillery and what inspired you to start your own distillery?
Well my children have all grown, are off on their own, so as most parents know that frees up some time! I have always enjoyed rum and my wife, Mary, and I have enjoyed rum from various areas in our travels. One day several friends and I were sitting around and, probably having enjoyed a little too much rum, started talking about making our own.
After all, we are sitting here in the middle of some of the finest sugarcane in the world so why not give it a go. I have a big tobacco barn that was sitting unused so that made me think we could give it a start without a large financial commitment. So one day I mentioned it to Mary and of course her question was WHY? And all I said was “Just Because” and now three years later here we are.
Can you walk us through your typical day at the distillery?
I guess it is pretty much the same as any other true craft distillery. Checking on fermentation to see when the molasses is ready for distilling, making the stripping run, and spirits run. And of course we spend a fair amount of time on labeling and filling bottles. We are very hands on in our process with little to no automation. We are keeping with the art of the craft.
What has been your greatest challenge since you decided you wanted to have your own distillery?
From a business stand point the greatest challenge has been keeping up with the forms and record keeping. The TTB and Louisiana’s ATC have been great to work with and very helpful, but the fact remains there are a lot of forms and reports to keep up with on a daily and monthly basis. From the operation side, my greatest challenge has been getting the distillation just right. Finding the right place to make the heads and tails cut so we can produce that quality profile that we enjoy and can enjoy sharing with others.
Do you have any advice for someone who is considering opening up their own distillery?
You probably don’t have enough time on the advice I would like to give. A book on opening a distillery might be in my future for another day. But if I had to give one piece of advice it is to get with a good consultant and follow the advice you pay for.
What rum(s) do you currently produce?
We have only recently received our final license from the local level so we are only making a white rum at present. Our spiced rum is pending approval and we hope to have that out within the next two or three months. Then two or three months behind that we hope to have a specialty flavored rum.
What inspired you to call your rum, Kicking Mule? Is there a story behind this name?
A lot of people have been asking the same question. In selecting a name I was trying to come up with something somewhat unique and catchy. When our children were growing up we raised and exhibited livestock. We always had a small mule around to help keep away stray dogs and coyotes and help halter break the show calves. The mule would love to run around and kick high in the air. So after tossing around several names, one of my daughters came up with the idea as she was looking at the mule in the pasture one day.
We thought it had a good ring to it and would be easy for people to say “hey bartender – give me a Mule and Coke”.
Where is your rum available for purchase?
Our rum is available for purchase at the distillery and various stores in the South Louisiana area, some of which are listed on our website, www.riverroaddistillery.com. We also have several restaurants and bars that are featuring drinks made with “Kicking Mule” on their menus.
What is your favorite Kicking Mule cocktail?
Blackberry Coconut Sour. (Photo and recipe provided on page 44).
Do you offer tours of your distillery and do you have a visitor’s center?
We don’t offer an official tour at this time. Of course when customers stop in to make a purchase we are more than happy to show them around.
There are other rum distilleries in Louisiana, what sets you apart from them?
We have several other rum distilleries in Louisiana that are making some really good spirits. I think that we are a little different in that we are situated on River Road right adjacent to the Mississippi Levee and next to Auberge Du Chene Vert, a bed and breakfast run by my wife that was my family home, www.aubergeduchenevert.com. The house sits under several beautiful large oak trees which make a very nice setting to sit back and enjoy a cocktail made with “Kicking Mule Rum”. With Louisiana and increased focus on tourism, I see a very good possibility of a “rum trail ” in the future and with the bed and breakfast that would be a real good fit.
If people want to contact you, how may they reach you?
The best way to reach us is by email at email@example.com or snail mail at River Road Distillery, 2151 Kliebert Road, Paulina, LA 70763.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Yes; we would love for you to come spend a night at the Bed and Breakfast and enjoy a few cocktails under the Oaks.