Tucked behind a shopping center off Falkenburg Road, the Florida Distillery may be inconspicuous, but is anything but ordinary.
The distillery is home to award-winning vodka crafted from Florida-grown ingredients and offers the first distillery tasting room experience in Florida.
A unique bar, carved from a Sarasota-grown Monkey Pod tree, stands prominently on one side of the room, behind it a neat row of bottles filled with different amounts of shimmering clear liquid are on display. One bottle half-full of something bright purple stands out.
“It’s a muscadine grape,” said Lee Nelson, one of the owners of the Florida Distillery.
The purple vodka called “Gator Grape” is just one of the distillery’s nine different flavors. The Florida Distillery specializes in creating all natural flavored vodkas.
“We have new ones on deck, we’re going to do a jalapeno one called Fire Ant that should come out in a couple weeks,” Nelson said. “We’ve been messing around with what works on combination flavors. We have two that are pretty successful, which are our Beach Bum Berry — it’s the Raspberry and Blackberry — and then the Key West Lemon and Lime, which is key lime and lemon. We really like those combination ones, they’re kind of unique in the market.”
Nelson, who started craft brewing as a college student, but moved to creating moonshines as a challenge, said he prefers the “Orlando Orange” flavor.
“It’s our best seller and because all our products use natural ingredients there’s really nothing (like it) on the market,” Nelson said. “Absolutely nothing as fragrant or as flavorful as far as an orange or citrus goes.”
The color of the “Gator Grape” took a lot of work to achieve, Nelson said.
“The grape was the trickiest because one batch we would run would come off almost brown or black, and some would come off even more neon purple than that,” he said. “In the end, we squeeze muscadine juice and we add juice in order to get a consistent color base to it all.”
After taking a seat at the bar, guests must show their IDs to check in. After this, they are given a brief history of the distillery and are taught the proper way to taste vodka — first, smell it for the fragrance, hold it up light to see its gem-like quality and finally take a small sip and swish it around your mouth.
The tasting starts with a bottle of water, a bowl of oyster crackers and a small glass of the distillery’s premium vodka. A window behind the bar shows the glinting silver and copper tools used to create the vodka.
“We need to finish out our flavor line,” Nelson said. “We’re going to go into Nevada and California next with the vodkas. We’re looking at doing the four-flavored moonshines. We’re going to start some whiskeys and bourbons then we have some ideas about gin and gin cordial.”
The line of moonshines will be released sometime in May.
The distillery has had success with Groupon and Living Social deals, Nelson said, that offer 50 percent off a bottle of vodka to those who attend a tasting.
The free tasting experiences, which can be signed up for online, take place Fridays and Saturdays and are capped at groups of 20.