Think Local, Drink Local
Seven Three Distilling Company takes being a local business to an entirely new level: this producer of fine spirits is named after the 73 officially-designated neighborhoods in New Orleans. And their products all continue the theme, from Bywater Bourbon to Black Pearl Rum.
Seven Three was founded in 2016 by the husband-and-wife team of Sal and Eileen Bivalaqua as “a passion project,” in the words of the distillery’s General Manager, Tristan Johnson. Sal, a native New Orleanian and local attorney, and Eileen, a transplant from the Azores by way of New Hampshire, roped in Head Distiller Erik Morningstar from Two James Spirits in Detroit, and the team was ready to play.
The first product, St. Roch Vodka, was launched in 2017, and immediately got a positive reception from local imbibers and bartenders. Morningstar sets the tone for all the spirits by combining his distiller’s experience and training (having been mentored by Dave Pickerell, former Master Distiller at Maker’s Mark) with locally-sourced ingredients and innovative distilling techniques.
As an example of this, a popular variation on the original St. Roch Vodka is the Cucumber Vodka version. “We juice fresh local cucumbers and blend them with the vodka,” Johnson explained. “It took a long time to calibrate, to get the flavor balance right, but it’s really refreshing. It makes a great Blood Mary and pairs well with soda, lime and mint. It has become one of our best-selling products.”
Another immediate success was the Irish Channel Whiskey, which within two years of it release won Best of Class and Best of Category at the American Distilling Institute’s international spirits competition.
Housed in former industrial building on Claiborne Avenue at Bienville, Seven Three’s facility includes a spacious bar/tasting room and a large lobby and souvenir area along with the distillery works. Tours are available, and the open, roomy interior makes for a great event space.
“It’s a fun environment,” noted Johnson, “you are right there where the spirits are being made.”
Like every other public-serving establishment, COVID-19 impacts have curtailed on-site operations, though tours are still available and a limited number of mixed drinks are still served in the lobby.
“The pandemic did have some positives,” Johnson observed. “The tasting room had been our primary revenue-driver, but the shutdown led to a big shift into distribution. Since then we’ve seen dramatic gains in the market.”
Seven Three’s spirits are now available in bars, restaurants and retailers throughout Louisiana, especially the larger markets. “We can be found all over!” exclaimed Johnson.
Products can also be ordered for delivery to most places via the company’s website, seventhreedistilling.com. Another feature of the site is a large section devoted to the team’s favorite drink recipes. While it is obviously in Seven Three’s best interest to get customers thinking about as many different ways to use the products as possible, the recipes are a great resource for at-home mixologists looking to expand their own repertoire and try something new.
Trying something new is also a hallmark of Seven Three’s approach, as new spirits roll out of the vats and barrels. The most recent release is the Bywater Bourbon, which had been aging in barrels since 2018. The debut, however, did not exactly go off without a hitch.
“We released it in August, just in time for Hurricane Ida,” Johnson said, with an audible sigh in his voice. “It seems like it’s all disruptions all the time these days.”
Despite the distractions, Bywater Bourbon’s first batch sold out quickly and the second is in distribution now. Several limited-release rice whiskies have also been well received, and currently some of the Black Pearl Rum is undergoing the aging process for a future launch.
In keeping with the company’s strong local focus, Seven Three purchases as much of its ingredients and supplies from area businesses as possible, and it supports local nonprofits by hosting events and providing libations. This means that drinking a Seven Three cocktail can be considered a form of community support.
The connection between company and community remains central to Seven Three’s philosophy and approach – and its success. “We are deeply appreciative of the local community that has supported us for the past five years,” said Johnson. “Thank you for drinking local.”