Sugarfield Spirits Adds a Sweet Touch to the Beverage Alcohol Industry

sugarfield spirits
Courtesy of Sugarfield Spirits

Nestled into Gonzales, LA, one of the largest sugar-producing states in the U.S., Sugarfield Spirits was born out of a passion to create distilled spirits with local ingredients that reflect the season, weather and land. 

The idea for Sugarfield began on a trip to Oregon in 2011 when founder Thomas Soltau fell in love with a family-owned distillery that was bottling an expression of Pacific Northwest fruit. Soltau wondered what he could do in the south with some southern fruit. 

“For a long time, I thought about being a winemaker,” he says. “I have a pretty extensive background in chemistry and biology, so I thought when I retired I would move into a winemaking role.”

However, during his travels while looking into winemaking, Soltau saw the craft distillery movement springing up. “I figured, ‘I could do that.’ And there weren’t many advanced degrees in spirit making available at the time, so I began looking more into it.” he notes.

Thomas Soltau, founder of Sugarfield Spirits.

Making a Grand Debut at the Start of Covid

Soltau’s curiosity got the best of him and Sugarfield Spirits was born. After filing as a business in 2017 and then working through the next few years on obtaining permits and a property, the distillery finally launched to the public in January of 2020. 

“It was a little scary,” says Soltau, reminiscing about when the distillery first began at the start of the pandemic. “I’d invested my entire retirement account into launching this business, and then Covid happened.”

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Even though Sugarfield Spirits had a rough start, Soltau notes that they continue to exhibit growth each year. They also just recently partnered with a marketing group, which has helped to spread the word.

Sugarfield Spirits in the Making

Throughout the years, Sugarfield Spirits has continued to experiment with different spirits and has grown its portfolio. Now, the distillery offers four different types of rum, cane sugar vodka, bourbon, gin and a variety of locally-sourced fruit liqueurs. In 2022, Sugarfield added a winery and cidery to their physical location to grow their brand experience. 

Soltau cites that the local ingredients they use including cane, sugar and molasses are all sourced from Assumption Parish nearby. “I drive across the Mississippi River to the mill, fill up my totes with the sugar, molasses and cane juice, and then drive back to the distillery,” he says. 

Once the ingredients arrive at the distillery, Soltau explains they then add the yeast and begin fermenting it for about 36 to 48 hours. 

“We double distill everything here,” he says. “Our first distillation is a quick stripping run where we take it all the way down to about 10% alcohol. The second distillation is a finishing run and comes out about 170 proof.”

The end result is a spirit that tastes like and represents the local terroir in Louisiana. 

Sugarfield’s spirit portfolio.

From Chemist to Distiller

Between everything that Sugarfield Spirits offers, including the newly added winery and cidery, Soltau has 38 permits that he needs to run the business. “I have everything from a local retail alcohol permit to a local wholesale alcohol permit to a local occupational permit. With the distillery, winery and cidery, it’s double the permits with the two businesses,” he says. 

“I also have my board certification from the American Board of Pediatrics,” he continues. “I have state and federal permits for being a doctor and then my DEA license that allows me to give babies heavy narcotics when they’re on a ventilator — there are so many permits that I have, it’s almost overwhelming.”

Keeping up with all of the necessary permits may seem like a lot of work, but Soltau’s background helped prepare him for this. Working as a neonatologist in Baton Rouge prior to jumping into the beverage alcohol industry, his experience in medicine and chemistry equipped him with the skill to test thousands of flavors, blending local fruits and commercial spirits to find the right combinations. And, of course, keeping up with all of the necessary permits.

“There’s still so much we’re learning about the industry and we keep modulating blends to make them better,” Soltau explains. “When we did our second aged rum batch, we had eight barrels of bourbon finished rum. It was good, but everybody I let taste it said it needed something else. I ended up adding a barrel of port-finished rum and it changed the whole dynamic of the spirit, making it into something dramatically better.”

Soltau’s wife also brings a plethora of knowledge to the distilling business. Working as a pediatric oncology nurse for most of her career, she carried over the same mentality and meticulous note taking to Sugarfield Spirits.  

“Note taking is so important for replication,” explains Soltau. “If you don’t know what you did in the past, you won’t know in the future. I can always go back to our notebooks, read what we did six months ago and make sure we’re still doing the same thing or see why we made certain changes.”

The Future of Sugarfield Spirits

As Sugarfield Spirits continues to grow, so does their marketing. “About five months ago, our distributor put me and another brand in the state, Sidewalk Side Spirits, into contact with each other. He was having issues with production and I was having issues with distribution,” Soltau says. 

Working with the other company has helped Sugarfield Spirits to work through their weaknesses and adapt. “So far, it’s been a good partnership for both of us,” notes Soltau. 

As the two companies continue to work together, it will only help to drive their growth.

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