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Bottoms Up: 39 Florida Distilleries Featured On Craft Spirits Trail

Patch logo Patch 5/4/2022 D'Ann Lawrence White

FLORIDA — Connoisseurs of rum, vodka, whiskey, vodka and other spirits are invited to tour 39 distilleries across Florida during the Florida Craft Spirits Association's Florida Distillery Trail.

"We are thrilled to be announcing our distillery trail, which has come to fruition in only our second year as an association,” said David Cohen, president of the Florida Craft Spirits Association, a membership organization consisting of 44 Florida distilleries. “We are also happy to report that we have had over 100 percent retention of our members from the previous year, which speaks to the strength of our industry in this state. With the help of Visit Florida, we will make the Florida Distillery Trail one of the best in the country."

The Florida Distillery Trail consists of 39 distilleries spanning the Sunshine State from the Panhandle to the Keys. Along the trail, visitors will get a chance to explore Florida's scenic landscapes, quaint towns, historic landmarks and experience the various cultures that have infused Florida with traditions and heritage.

Up until the passage of the 2021 Florida Craft Distilleries Law, craft distilleries were hampered by Prohibition-era laws intended to crack down on Florida's illegal but lucrative moonshine industry.

From the 1920s to the 1950s, making moonshine or white lightning in the backwoods and hard-to-reach swamps of North Florida, making moonshine or white lightning was a major industry.

Even after prohibition was repealed by the 21st Amendment in 1933, the industry flourished despite efforts by United States Treasury agents to root out the unlicensed, untaxed stills and so-called "rum runners" à la "Dukes of Hazzard."

In a single operation in the 1960s, about 90 stills were destroyed by the government only to reappear in another part of the swamps due to the little capital needed to build a still and purchase in ingredients to create moonshine.

Ultimately, however, small-production craft breweries, distilleries and vineyards, which became increasingly popular in the past 20 years, paid the price for all the illegal shenanigans in Florida, with overly restrictive laws.

Florida distillers were prohibited from being licensed as an alcohol distributor or retailer; Florida craft distilleries couldn't sell alcohol by the glass; and Florida craft distilleries were limited to selling no more than six bottles per brand per person per year, according to Brewer'sLaw.com, a legal website focuses on laws surrounding the production of alcohol in Florida.

With the 2021 law, the legal landscape for craft distilleries completely changed, enabling small brewers, distillers and winemakers to become more profitable, according to the association.

Florida beverage laws previously allowed craft distilleries to sell to consumers only the products entirely distilled on-site. Now, Florida craft distilleries can also sell products that are distilled off-site (even by another distillery) as long as they are blended on site.

The new law also lifted the restrictions on the number of bottles that could be sold each year and are able to sell their own branded products directly to consumers by the glass for consumption on the premises in a tasting room or gift shop and at Florida fairs, trade shows, farmers markets, expositions and festivals.

The 2021 Craft Distilleries Law also increased the amount of distilled, rectified or blended alcohol a distillery can sell from 75,000 gallons a year to 250,000 gallons.

One of the bill's sponsor, Florida Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast, said the new law puts Florida distilleries "on par with the rest of the nation."

According to The Craft Spirits Data Project, a study led in conjunction with the American Craft Spirits Association and the International Wine and Spirits Research, the number of active craft distillers in the U.S. grew by 1.1 percent over the last year to 2,290 as of August 2021.

The volume of craft spirits produced grew 7.3 percent, with 12 million 9-liter cases sold retail in 2020.

As for revenue, the market reached $6.7 billion in sales, growing at an annual rate of 9.8 percent.

Currently, there are 1,835 distilleries in the United States with the majority (33.7 percent) in California, New York, Washington, Texas and Colorado.

Phillip McDaniel, who co-founded the St. Augustine Distillery in 2009, and started the nonprofit Florida Craft Distillers Guild in 2012 to advocate for the young industry, said 2021 legislation was a game changer for distillers.

“We recognized if Florida was going to be competitive in craft distilling, we needed to enjoy the rights of other craft wineries and craft breweries,” McDaniel said.

He said the distillery, located in St. Augustine’s first power and ice complex, built in 1907, is as much a tourist attraction as a producer of spirits, attracting more than 5,000 visitors a month for the distillery's tours.

“The new trend for tourism is personal growth, an educational vacation,” said McDaniel.

Tours of distilleries and breweries are now promoted as tourist attractions by Visit Tampa.

With Florida's new distillery law in place, McDaniel predicts the micro distillery business will explode in the Sunshine State.

Among the new distilleries opening in the past year are 21st Amendment Distillery of Vero Beach and Tropical Distillers in Miami.

Another reason for the rising popularity of distilleries is their ability to use Florida agricultural crops in their production, including corn, barley, rye, sugar cane, citrus fruit, strawberries, blueberries and even mangoes, so distilleries should have no problem adapting to the Groves Law portion of the new legislation effective July 1, 2026.

The law requires distillers to use a minimum of 60 percent of Florida agricultural products.

“The terroir,” McDaniel said, is what distinguishes Florida’s craft spirits from other regions.

The terroir is the combination of the geographic elements that dictate how things will taste.

“We have so many things that make fantastic spirits,” he said. “Great corn, sugar cane…”

To embark on the trail, participants can get a free passport booklet at any participating distillery, visit distilleries at their convenience and collect stamps in the booklet at each stop.

For every 12 stamps collected, participants will receive a commemorative gift to mark their achievement, including T-shirts, tasting glasses and gift baskets filled with crafted spirits.

Among the distilleries participants are invited to explore are:

The Florida Craft Spirits Association was established to serve as the voice of Florida's growing handcrafted distilled spirits industry, representing the views and interests of distilleries before policymakers and promoting awareness of the industry.

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The article Bottoms Up: 39 Florida Distilleries Featured On Craft Spirits Trail appeared first on Tampa Patch.

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