In the early days of the Louisiana colony, most settlers drank imported brandy and wine from Europe. The preference for wine over other hard liquors and the attachment the French settlers had for it can be seen in the reaction French colonists under Spanish rule had when denied access to their wine. The insurrection of 1778 occurred during Spanish occupation of New Orleans. Spanish Governor Ulloa had enacted several economic measures that were distasteful to the French citizens, one of which was severely curtailing French wine imports in favor of those from Spain. One night, according to Mel Leavitt in A Short History of New Orleans, a group of Creoles, many of whom had been drinking, gathered in the Plaza de Armas, shouting for the return of their beloved Bordeaux, shouting “Give us the wine of Bordeaux, not the poison of Catalonia.”. The plaque on the Cabildo that honors these men makes no mention of the wine, but instead credits those who “first voiced in America the principle of self determination of nations.”
But over time, the expense of importing wine and brandy outweighed nationalist zeal and many colonists switched to drinking rum, which first came from the Carribbean and later was made from locally grown sugar cane. Eventually, though, as more Americans settled in Louisiana, they brought with them their preference for American made whiskey and by the 1880’s, rum was a low-rent option for the down and out.
In Acadiana the drinking circumstances were similar. Food historians Carl and Ryan Brasseaux note that “members of high society enjoyed wine and brandy imported from Europe, while working class folks socialized over less expensive spirits, namely tafia--a cheap rum distilled from molasses and refuse sugar.” Post Civil War, the Cajuns followed the national preference for whiskey until Prohibition compelled them to join the nation in either home distilling or consuming illegal rum from the Caribbean.
After Prohibition ended in 1933, distilleries had only nine years to produce whiskey until World War II prevented Americans from obtaining whiskey. By 1942, all distillers were making “cocktails for Hitler,” as distillery production shifted to making the industrial alcohol used in making smokeless gunpowder and rubber tires. Except for three, one-month “holidays” granted by the government, no new liquor was produced. Whiskey reserves plummeted. New Orleaneans began importing rum from the Caribbean and bartenders began creating drinks to use this rediscovered liquor. Between 1941 and 1944, American consumption of rum increased four fold.
A primary contributor to the increased consumption in New Orleans was Pat O’Brien’s Hurricane. Pat O’Brien had run the successful “Club Tipperary” before, during and after Prohibition, The club survived Prohibition as a speakeasy (password “Storm’s Brewin’ ”). O’Brien later partnered with Charlie Cantrell, opening Pat O’Brian’s in 1933 and it, too, was a success. Due to the low whiskey supplies during World War II, whenever Mr. O’Brien wanted to purchase any whiskey, his distributors forced him to buy a large amount of rum. According to Pat O’Brien’s history, “It wasn’t unusual to have to take fifty cases of rum for every single case of Bourbon or Scotch.” This ample supply of rum stirred the creative juices in the owners and bartenders and through trial and error, they created what was to become one of the most famous drinks in town. Pat O’Brien’s now sells more than one million Hurricanes a year and according to one source, sells more alcohol per square feet than any establishment in the world.
Now Louisianians no longer need to look to the Caribbean for a steady rum supply. New Orleans Rum is made in New Orleans. Founded in 1998, Celebration Distillation Corporation is the oldest premium rum distillery on the U.S. mainland. More importantly, New Orleans Rum is made of local products: Louisiana cane syrup and molasses, thus continuing the Creole tradition of thrift and resourcefulness by finding another use for a local crop.