Recently, I finally was able to visit Avery Island, LA – the veritable home of Tabasco®. I had an opportunity over 20 years ago to visit Avery Island, LA and squandered it. I was determined to get here one day, but wasn’t sure if I would ever have the opportunity. We visit my in laws usually around Thanksgiving and Christmas while they are in Florida for the winter. I had thought about taking a day trip over and back but could not work out the details. Finally, we knew we were coming for Spring Break (which is unusually early this year – this week) and I delicately approached the subject with my family one night at the dinner table. Reactions were mixed and there was not much enthusiasm from either my wife or my four year old daughter (neither of which eat Tabasco®), my son wasn’t overly excited either, but he liked the idea of going somewhere new.
We arrived at Avery Island at noon and figured that we would eat lunch at 1868 – a restaurant serving many items with Tabasco® in them. They did have some items for those who do not eat Tabasco®. I enjoyed the Avery Island Red Beans & Rice. My son enjoyed a Chili Dog – which he said was spicy. Each table had a wooden box caddy of at least 10 different sauces. After our lunch we decided that it was time for the tour. I heard that the tour had improved recently along with a new museum. If we had more time we would have also gone to Jungle Gardens and Bird City.
The tour is self-guided and has nine different stops: You start at the Museum which is relatively new and has several exhibits surrounding the history of the island itself and the McIlhenny family. There are also several short videos that can be viewed at your leisure while in the museum. After the museum, the next two stops are the Greenhouse and the Barrel Aging warehouse. The Greenhouse shows how the peppers start from seeds and then into plants. The Barrel Warehouse is where the mash is stored in white oak barrels where it is aged for three years. Each barrel is filled with the red pepper mash and then sealed and then it is covered with Avery Island salt to keep out the impurities while the fermentation process takes place over three years. Each barrel is labeled and dated.
After leaving the barrel warehouse, we walked down the same path back towards the factory where a majority of the processes take place. Stop #4 was the blending operation where the mash is loaded into large vats after the fermentation process is completed and the mash is mixed with salt and vinegar and it is mixed for up to three weeks. Stop #5 is the Avery Island experience which gives more history and detail about the island itself. Step #6 is the Salt Mine experience. Step #7 is the Bottling line – they only bottle sauce Monday – Thursday. I enjoyed seeing the line operation, even though it was not operational when we were there.
Step #8 is the Food, Flavors and Tabasco® today exhibit where they have a room with several inflatable bottles of the various sauce flavors. The walls are lined with various exhibits from art to recipes. There are also some display cases that show the various products that Tabasco is part of (co-branding)
Did you know that Queen Elizabeth uses Tabasco? There is a royal warrant that was issued to the company back in 2009 and it hangs on the outside of the factory building. A royal warrant is a big deal. Not many US based companies can say that they supply goods to the Queen of England!
The final stop that we made was to the Country Store. This is where you can purchase just about any item with either the Tabasco® logo on it or the actual products themselves. I bought several things, some sauces, a t shirt and a few other things. I had set a budget and surprisingly enough I went over by $15 only. Thankfully, I am able to purchase items online if needed since I wasn’t able to buy everything that I wanted.
This was definitely a great experience for me since I am an avid user of Tabasco® as well as a great fan. I would love to come back and learn more about the history of the company and Avery Island itself. This would also be a company that I would love to work for if it were possible to do so without relocating to Avery Island (I think I would have a hard time convincing the family to make that kind of move).
I would urge anyone who is a fan of Tabasco® to find a way in their lifetime to make a pilgrimage to Avery Island and take the tour, enjoy the 1868 restaurant and make some purchases in the Country Store. You will not be disappointed. I know that I greatly enjoyed my brief trip to Avery Island, LA. I hope that I am able to make another trip back sooner rather than later. Thanks also to my family who indulged me and tolerated this little detour even though they are not Tabasco® consumers like I am.
Defending the world against bland food.