For us, the J.T. Meleck story started about 7 years ago when we were trying to figure out what to do with our rice crop. But, the real story started in the late 1870s when Uncle John Meleck immigrated with his family from Germany. They settled right here on this ridge in South Louisiana, where our farm is today. He chose this area because it was a fresh water marsh, and was able to start growing rice around 1896.
Rice farming isn’t just what we do, it’s our heritage, it’s four generations of hard-work. It’s something that you can’t just let go, even when the price of rice becomes unprofitable to plant. We had to get creative and start asking the questions: “what do we do next?”, “what else can we do with our rice?”, and “how can it add value to a sustainable process?”.
After what seemed like a lifetime of round table discussions, someone jokingly said “I wonder if we could make vodka from it”. You could feel the wheels turning in Mike Fruge’s head, this was it. We knew it before we actually knew it. Next day, he’s booking a ticket to attend the American Distilling Institute (ADI) Craft Spirits Conference.
It’s possible that if the conference had more information on rice spirits, Mike would not have chosen to move forward with the J.T. Meleck idea. He doesn’t do something just to do, it has to have a purpose, a reason for existing, and a connection to what ultimately matters to him: his family. But, throughout the conference, he kept asking people for more information on spirits made with rice, and there was little to no information. No one was doing spirits made 100% from rice. Not only that, but there is no such thing as an American Rice Whiskey at the commercial level. That fact sealed the deal, it was happening. Didn’t know how yet, but the fact remained that it was happening. Mike decided that we would create the first successful American Rice Whiskey.
If you know anything about whiskey, you know that is sits in a barrel. As a small craft brand, new to this industry, it was impossible for us to sit on such a huge investment with no assurance that it would actually taste good at the end of the 5, 10, 15 years. Or if anyone would even like it! Unlike whiskey, vodka can be made in a matter of hours.
We worked with some lifelong distillers, played around with 6-7 recipes, and finally chose one that made, in Mike’s words, “the best martini he has ever had”. In our opinion, we wouldn’t even label our product a “vodka” as the taste profile is nothing like the stereotypical vodka taste profile. Don’t believe us? Give it a taste then. In fact, set yourself up with a blind tasting and compare us to other brands. Our rice vodka crushed every expectation we had when we decided we would do this.
Now, coming on 5 years later, we are about to release the first release of our American Rice Whiskey from the 53-gallon barrels. You’re gonna love it!
J.T. Meleck spirits aren’t just another product option in this saturated market. It’s Louisiana. It’s the culture we breath in, generations of farmers, and a story you can share around the fire with friends and family.
You can catch the whole J.T. Meleck story, told by Mike Fruge, on our YouTube page: