Rosemary and I recently took a river cruise from New Orleans to Memphis and we explored some of the new artisan distilleries and cigar shops along the route. These places could easily be explored during a vacation trip to the Mississippi River valley by car as well as by riverboat. Here was what we found.
We started in New Orleans. Crescent City Cigars was across Orleans Avenue from our Hotel, The Bourbon Orleans Hotel. It is an excellent cigar shop and Armando, the owner is a very knowledgeable and friendly man who works hard to help his customers with advice and service. They have a walk in humidor with a fantastic selection of cigars. There are several comfortable chairs to sit in while enjoying a cigar and the local customers and tourists are very friendly. Sitting in the shop while enjoying a cigar while engaging in conversation with the patrons and Armando is a great way to enjoy an hour or so while in the city.
Just down the road from the Avenue Pub on St. Charles Avenue is a local distillery and restaurant called The Lula Distillery. Polly Watts, the owner of the Avenue Pub recommend the food and we decided to have lunch there. The food was excellent and of course we tried their spirits. They specialize in rum distillation and I tried their white rum while Rosemary tried a gin and tonic made from their rum based gin. Both were very good. One of the owners, Jess Bourgeois and their distiller came out and talked with us after lunch. The owner stated that they made rum instead of whiskey because sugar can is the local produce and it made more sense economically to distill molasses than corn. The distiller was very knowledgeable and answered our questions about the process in an enthusiastic manner. We did not take time to tour the distillery itself but it is easily viewed as it is attached to the restaurant separated by viewing windows. They do offer tours so I would recommend a tour and lunch at Lula Distillery while in New Orleans. Rosemary left with a bottle of their gin.
The next stop was Natchez. We were only there a half a day before the American Duchess left for Vicksburg. We looked for cigar shops on Google Maps and found a couple but they were at the edge of town and too far to walk in the short amount of time we had. We did check out the local distillery in Natchez. It is another rum distillery located in the heart of Natchez called the Charboneau Distillery. They were open for tours. The distillery has a liquor store and restaurant in a historic old tavern building next door to the distillery. The tour was mostly the owner discussing rum and letting us sample his products before heading next door for a cocktail and to buy a bottle. Their bartender, Ricky Woolfolk made a Manhattan with aged rum. A very decent cocktail but a little sweet for my taste. The owner’s wife is a chef and Rosemary purchased her cookbook and a bottle of the aged rum. We did not eat in the restaurant but the food smelled wonderful.
Our final stop was Memphis. Philip and Susan Prichard were kind enough to give us a tour of the city and that included a tour of the Old Dominick Distillery in Memphis. The owner Alex Canale gave us a personal tour. The family was in the whiskey and produce distribution business prior to Prohibition but left the distilling side when Prohibition closed that part of the business down. They remained in the produce distribution business and recently decided to get back into the whiskey business. The distillery includes some nice event space and will soon have a restaurant as well as a cocktail bar. They are bottling a Tennessee Whiskey and several other products including a “Memphis Toddy” made from their whiskey. Their distiller, a woman also named Alex, came from Wild Turkey. They have a low barrel entry proof and a very thick mash that sets them apart from some of the other artisan distilleries in their state. The whiskey is well made but still young. I look forward to trying it again when they have well aged whiskey. We will go back the next time we are in Memphis and taste their products again.
We stayed at the Peabody Hotel and within walking distance of the hotel is the Havana Mix Cigar Emporium. This was a truly remarkable shop with a friendly staff, a walk in humidor with a large variety of cigars, a bar where you could get a drink and food service – chicken wings were the lunch special of the day. The person working that day was Andre Jackson. He offered many suggestions when we decided to try some cigars we had not tried before. I landed on a Nat Sherman and Rosemary had a Arturo Fuente. Both of us were pleased with the selections. There are several comfortable chairs to relax in while smoking as well as a cigar themed checker board and other forms of entertainment to amuse groups of customers coming in to while away the hours with a cigar.
A vacation in the Mississippi River Valley is a worthy trip for the Bourbon and Cigar fan. I would recommend it highly and I look forward to visiting these places in the future.
Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl and Michael Veach
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