Entrepreneurs: Ricci Hull and Natacha Krzesaj
(Photography by Brian Baiamonte)
POSITION Owners and operators
COMPANY Baton Rouge Distilling
WHAT THEY DO A microdistillery producing local craft spirits
ADDRESS 11616 Industriplex Blvd.
NEXT GOALS Expand production, reach of product and portfolio
MAP TO MIXOLOGY
In the back of his mind, Ricci Hull always knew he wanted to own a business, but it wasn’t until he met his wife, Natacha Krzesaj, that a newfound passion sparked the inspiration for Baton Rouge’s first microdistillery. A native of France, Krzesaj landed in Baton Rouge 20 years ago to study marking at LSU. Since then, she has held onto a love of liquors that is woven seamlessly into her culture. “I like spirits by themselves, but to me it is really part of a whole way of life,” she says. Krzesaj introduced her husband to the resurgent world of craft cocktails, and in the process Hull discovered a keen interest in distilling. After a trip together along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, Hull—an electrical engineer with an MBA from LSU—realized he could essentially design and build the same equipment. In mid-2013 he set out to start his own distilling operation and Baton Rouge Distilling was born.
CHANGE OF COURSE
While Hull and Krzesaj initially expected to produce bourbon as their first product, the opportunity to connect with Henry Amato of Independence-based Amato’s Winery earlier this year took them in a different direction. After completing a lengthy and complex permitting process, Hull sourced and tested Amato’s strawberry wine and distilled it into Louisiana’s first locally produced brandy. “In Europe, traditionally, fruit brandies are made of a variety of plums, pears, apples and wild blueberries,” Krzesaj says. “I’ve never really seen a strawberry brandy, but we figured why not try it and see if it tastes good.” The experiment paid off. Their strawberry brandy officially hit the market in late May, and five months later Hull had moved the last two cases out of the distillery. “I’m pretty excited about how quickly it sold,” he says. “Everything has been surprisingly positive for something as weird and unique as it is.”
FRUITS OF THEIR LABOR
With plans for a final production run of the strawberry brandy, the couple’s focus is now shifting to the research and development of bourbon and other whiskeys to expand their portfolio. Still, balancing their day jobs remains a top priority. By day, Hull still works as an electrical engineer and Krzesaj is an online marketing manager. By night and on weekends, the duo puts their talents to use at their 1,000-square-foot warehouse off Industriplex Boulevard. Hull uses his engineering background as a reference point for managing the intricacies of the distilling process, and he also handles sales calls. Krzesaj puts her expertise to use by marketing the business and product line through participation at local culinary and spirit events. She also shares cocktail ideas and manages the distillery’s social media presence. Their goal is to grow the business slowly and organically. “This is all of our investment, so we can move at our own pace,” Hull says. Krzesaj adds: “Then when we reach a certain level, it will allow us to start focusing on this 100 percent.”
As Hull and Krzesaj look to expand their production, portfolio and product reach, they hope to establish a bourbon as their flagship product. Along the way, Hull also wants to work toward uniting Louisiana’s growing distilling community. “Other states have craft distilling guilds where you can get together to share information,” he says. “That is something I’m going to try to work on because in the end, we are not all competition. We are complementing the state spirits.” Meanwhile, Krzesaj hopes to tap into new avenues for people to discover one-of-a-kind liquors, like their strawberry brandy and the other fruit brandies they plan to bring to market. “I’d really like to do more partnerships and pairing events with bars and restaurants,” she says. “I think the education and introducing people to new quality spirits with food is what we’d like to do to try to grow our presence in Baton Rouge and then expand to more of the state.”