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JT Meleck Distillers on the Jay Ducote Show

Updated: Jul 15, 2021

Richard Hotard of JT Meleck Distillers recently joined Jay Ducote of the Jay Ducote Show for a radio / podcast interview to discuss the latest on JT Meleck Vodka and Whiskey at Burgersmith in Broussard, Louisiana.

Jay: We are back live from Broussard, Louisiana. We’re at Burgersmith in Broussard, the newest Burgersmith location. It’s a bit of a rainy Monday afternoon here in the Greater Lafayette area, but that’s alright we’re having some fun. We’re drinking some beer, eating some burgers, and we’re also going to talk some vodka! We might get to drink a little bit of that as well. Joining me now from JT Meleck Distillers in Branch, Louisiana we got Richard! What’s up sir?

Richard: What’s going on my man…it’s been a while!

Jay: Yeah it’s been too long! Doing well, doing well, thanks for taking the time to come over here and hang out with us!

Richard: Not a problem! Anytime to come talk vodka and burgers, I’m in!

Jay: So at my taco shop, Gov’t Taco in Baton Rouge, we have JT Meleck there behind our bar. We’re at Burgersmith right now, they have JT Meleck Vodka here; I know they use it in the Bloody Mary that they do here. Tell me a little bit about JT Meleck Vodka and how all this got started.

Richard: You know, we all have our own versions of how it got started. I’ll tell you how my version happened: I work for a guy named Mike Fruge, I’ve been with him for 18 years with his seafood company. We’re a family-owned rice and crawfish farm in Branch. That’s what we do right? We grow rice, we farm crawfish, and that was our world. About six or seven years ago, Mike, who is an entrepreneur at heart, was trying to figure out what he could do with all this rice that we have to grow to feed the crawfish.

Mike Fruge standing in a rice field in front of the setting sun.
Mike Fruge, founder of JT Meleck Distillers, Fruge Seafood, and CajunCrawfish

Richard: And man, we were kicking ideas around and one of the guys in the office said, “I wonder if we could make beer out of it,” and Mike, if you know Mike at all, he’s not a big beer guy, right? He gets congested when he drinks beer. Later that night, we were having dinner at a restaurant, he ordered a martini, and he says, “I wonder if we could make vodka!?” And that’s really where it got started. We googled it: can we make vodka from rice? Sure enough, you can…

Waitress brings a Paloma made w/ vodka and sets it down on the table.

Jay: Ooooh, there we go! That’s a pretty drink!

Richard: So we started that process about four or five years ago. Went to a conference, our Super Bowl for craft spirits is ADI, the American Distilling Institute. While there, Mike learned that (1) you have to be authentic, (2) you have to be consistent, and (3) you have to be unique! So Mike was sitting there going, “Man! I’m authentic…I’m a rice farmer, a crawfish guy. I’m authentic, there’s no one else that has this right? There’s no one else that’s rice and spirits." So that’s where it all started. We started distilling, got it into a bottle, got it into some restaurants, and the reception was overwhelming, which is when we knew we needed to keep doing it.

Whiskey being poured into a whiskey glass.
JT Meleck Rice Whiskey

Richard: The vodka has been incredibly successful across the state. As you know though,

our main play is the rice whiskey. We’re producing that stuff daily; putting it in barrels and letting it sit. I know you got to try some of the really young stuff; the oldest batch we have right now is about 3.5 years old. We’re trying to pull it out after each summer; after that expansion happens, it starts contracting, then we pull samples and test it. What we’ve tested so far has been phenomenal…so we’re hoping maybe about another year?

Jay: Yeah…yeah, that sounds about right; as you get closer to five years, you know, in the Louisiana climate, and with the way that whiskey works in a barrel, what it actually wants is that change in temperature, that expansion and contraction. In Louisiana you don’t necessarily get that as much, obviously, because there isn’t that fluctuation. When it’s hot, it’s hot. In Kentucky, it’s hot during the day but it’s cold at night so it’s just a little bit more of that change, but, all that is just going to change how that liquid interacts with the wood inside the barrels over time, so, once you get to four, five years in a Louisiana climate you should be starting to get to where you’re really getting some barrel-aged spirit that you like.

Richard: Yeah! So we’re excited about that, and getting back to, for example Gov’t Taco in Baton Rouge…the response has been overwhelming from the community of restauranteurs: embracing a local spirit, putting it on the menu, and really being unique with it, not just throwing it on the well and putting it on some ice.

Richard: We got this cocktail that they created right here is a traditional Paloma made with tequila, but you know, throw a little bit of JT in there, and you got a tasty cocktail with the grapefruit, it works really well.

Jay: Tasting the cocktail Mmmmm, yeah, that’s great…nothing wrong with that at all!

Jay: I find, generally speaking, that the history of vodka is kind of like, you want it to taste like nothing. You distill it so many times, you get out all the impurities, so that it tastes like nothing. What I like about JT Meleck is that it does actually have a flavor. You can tell that it was distilled with rice. So when thinking about making a cocktail out of it, there’s so many things you can do because it’s got some sort of ingrained flavor.

Richard: Yeah that was really done by design, we wanted that element of the rice to be there. We wanted that representation of what we do and who we are as rice farmers. To your point, it lends itself really well…if you think about rice, and you’re a chef, you know this, the rice never overpowers the beat, where as corn may do that and wheat may do that. Rice kinda blends in with what it’s given. That’s what I love about it. If you take JT, for example, my wife and I’s favorite cocktail is an espresso martini: a little bit of coffee, a little JT, and some syrup and that sweetness of this vodka is perfect, and you really can’t taste it. That’s what I love about this product is that it doesn’t taste like rubbing alcohol and it really works with what it’s presented with.

Jay: Oh yeah, absolutely! We gotta take a little break, but we’ll be back with Richard with JT Meleck Distillers.

- commercial break -

Jay: We’re back! I am at Burgersmith in Broussard, Louisiana. I’m Jay Ducote here and joining me here is Richard from JT Meleck Distillers, uh, they’ve got rice farms and crawfish in those rice farms, and now they’re also making Louisiana vodka out of that rice as well - Fruge Spirits in addition to Fruge Seafood.

Jay: Richard, thank you very much for being here and joining us, there’s Carlos Knotts walking in from Bayou Teche Brewing. It’s a party up in here!

Jay: Man, it’s gotta be cool not only doing the rice and the crawfish but now the vodka and working on that whiskey as well.

Richard: You know, it’s amazing…the things people love: crawfish, whiskey, and vodka. You know people are excited to talk about it…

Jay: …people love rice too!

Richard: Yeah, haha! It’s really been exciting to see the reception, to see how people gravitate towards it. We’ve had a lot of support in the local markets, a lot of people have been excited about it. Everyone’s embraced the Louisiana products. We hear about products from other parts of the country doing well, but Louisiana is unique. We have a great group of folks and we have unique items so it’s exciting to be a part of that for sure!

Jay: Yeah! People can find JT Meleck Vodka out there in a lot of supermarkets and stores in addition to all the restaurants you guys are in, right?

Richard: Correct, all the major retailers carry us and then also the small independent folks…we like the mom and pop stores…the big guys are great, and we really appreciate that, and we’ve had a lot of support from the small, independent stores around town.

Jay: And people can find you, like you said earlier, at a lot of bars and restaurants too, right?

Richard: Yeah that’s right. When you go to some of these local Lafayette places, you’re going to see us in a beautiful copper mug, other places we’re the exclusive vodka at the location. So yeah, really good support out of our local restaurants. Same thing in Baton Rouge.

Jay: And people can find you, as you said in the last segment, bars and restauranteurs, you said bartenders love working with a Louisiana vodka like this. So, what are some of the other bars and restaurants where you can find JT Meleck?

Richard: So yeah, around and in Acadiana, Uncle T’s and Cafe Josephine have all been big supporters of us. Spoonbill in Downtown Lafayette

Jay: …love Spoonbill!

Richard: When you go to Spoonbill you’re going to see these copper mugs on every table and that’s a drink they created called the “Feels Like Summer” cocktail and it’s incredible. Good refreshing cocktail. Social is probably the first restaurant in Lafayette to pick us up and put us on the menu, but you can find us at Cajun Table, Hub City Diner…people are like, “You’re at Hub City Diner!? That’s a breakfast place!” right? But they have Bloody Marys and Screwdrivers and we’re the exclusive vodka over there. So yeah, really good support out of our local friends around town.

Cocktail below a JT Meleck bar mat and Spoonbill coaster
Feels Like Summer cocktail at Spoonbill

Jay: And in Baton Rouge, as we mentioned Gov’t Taco does have JT Meleck Vodka there so any drink that you’re getting with vodka you can request JT Meleck Vodka. We are going to run it at some point, I don’t know when, but we’re going to do a cocktail of the month that features JT Meleck Vodka…

Richard: …perfect! I think this Paloma would be perfect with some tacos…

Jay: You know, a vodka Palmoa…we’ve got Palomas on the menu that all feature tequila but by all means if you came in and said, “Do that with the JT Meleck Vodka,” we could definitely make that work! So yeah it’s really a great vodka. I like doing, and this kinda goes back to the origin story that you were talking about with Mike Fruge…I like a Dirty Martini with JT Meleck Vodka. I really feel like the flavor that’s in the vodka goes so well with that olive brine and those kinda flavors. Like it’s just a good Dirty Martini vodka.

Richard: You know, I feel so normal and pedestrian when I say this but give me some ice, give me a little bit of olive brine with some JT and I’m good…that’s all I need.

Jay: Yeah! Yeah!

Richard: It’s perfect, 100%. And I think it’s that sweet and salty, right? It’s that natural balance that you find with it. It’s not sharp so you’re not having that, remember that old bitter beer face commercial? You don’t have that with this vodka. It’s so smooth that it’s very attractive when you have that martini going.

Jay: Yeah and I think that there’s a lot of great applications but the martini is really where it’s at for me. But, here at Burgersmith they actually do a Bloody Mary.

Richard: So a Bloody Mary you know…Bloody Mary and JT for me is a no-brainer. You still go back to your balancing act. Let me ask you this, as a chef. Tell me the story about sugar and tomato sauce. Is that a real thing?

Jay: Yeah it balances the acidity.

Richard: Right! So JT in the same way kinda balances off the acidity of the Bloody Mary mix. It really rolls right in and balances it out in my opinion. A lot of folks have creative Bloody Marys out there with JT in it. Soft-shell crabs in them, link of boudin, you know?

Bloody Mary in a mason jar, JT Meleck, and wooden menu
Bloody Mary at Tchoup's Midcity Smokehouse

Jay: A link of boudin! Haha, that’s great! This JT Meleck Vodka it’s pretty unmistakable when you see it in the store. “Louisiana handcrafted rice vodka,” it says it right there on the bottle in big letters and the picture of the crawfish and rice field right here. It says JT Meleck Distillers right here. So it’s out there and you can find it at supermarkets and restaurants all around Louisiana.

Jay: Richard, thanks for your time! I appreciate you making an appearance on the show. Best of luck and I’m really looking forward to trying that whiskey.

Richard: Not a problem! Yeah we will have you out on the farm, have you push a crawfish boat, try the whiskey. We’ll make it happen!

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