Florida has been flooded with local breweries over the last few years resulting in a slow rebranding of the state as one to be taken seriously when it comes to craft beer. Now we're seeing a rapid rise in quality, small-batch distilleries bringing us to a new level of notoriety in the world of cocktail industry trends. Handmade, craft spirits are taking center stage at cocktail bars around the state and locals are proudly supporting the movement. We've rounded up a few of our favorite spirits and drink recipes from some of Florida's best cocktail bars—mix one up after a long day at work or make them for friends at your next cocktail party.
Manifest Distilling Potato Vodka
In 2016, Jacksonville welcomed a newcomer to the game, Manifest Distilling. Vodka kicked off the product line, followed by an organic gin. The company is growing quickly and they'll be offering rye and barrel-aged gin soon. Manifest boasts a completely American-made product which includes their grains and distillation equipment. The neutral potato-based gluten-free vodka is noticeably clean and the team takes pride in working with Idaho-grown potatoes—striving to soon supply locally from Hastings, Florida (the potato capital of our state). Guided tours of the 9,000-square-foot distillery are available, though reservations are recommended. It seemed fitting that we look to Kurt Rogers, beverage director at one of Jacksonville's most popular cocktail bars, Sidecar. He delivered with something special and supplied us with a vodka recipe that's summery, exotic and fun.
Get the Recipe: Summer in the City
St. Augustine Distillery New World Gin
Operating out of a beautifully restored ice plant originally built in 1907, St. Augustine Distillery began making vodka in 2014 and has slowly expanded the product line with the addition of new world gin, double cask bourbon, and pot-distilled rum. Free tours are held daily where you can experience the process of mashing and distilling up close. We reached out to bartender Zach Lynch of The Ice Plant, the farm-to-table restaurant that sits beside the distillery, known for their handcrafted cocktails and the detailed ice creations that compliment their exceptional beverages. Zach provided us with a gin-based cocktail, The Phosphorescent, that we absolutely love. The gin is smooth with a pointed tartness of Florida citrus to balance the botanicals, making it superbly thirst-quenching in warmer months.
Get the Recipe: The Phosphorescent
Palm Ridge Reserve Whiskey
Travel about an hour north of Orlando and you'll find the small town of Umatilla. Located on a quiet cattle farm, sits the distillery for Palm Ridge Reserve. In 2008, this truly small-batch operation began producing a 90 proof, young Florida Bourbon-style whiskey. By 2010, they were publicly distributing and today they've grown their arsenal to include rye as well as virgin, an un-aged white whiskey. Southern whiskey enthusiasts may be quick to dismiss a product outside of Kentucky but you'll want to give this one a try. This spirit teases the tastebuds with notes of sweet, locally grown corn and toasted rye used in the mash. Wood chips from Florida orange trees are blended in during the barreling process, leaving the whiskey with hints of Florida citrus delightfully laced throughout. The complex result makes it ideal for mixed cocktails but also leaves a smooth, premium mouthfeel to hold its own when served on the rocks. Mike Smith, bar manager at The Imperial in Sanford, is a big fan of Palm Ridge and uses it often to make a whiskey smash.
Get the Recipe: Palm Ridge Whiskey Smash
Papa's Pilar Dark Rum
Influenced by famed author and the embodiment of free spirits, Ernest Hemingway, Papa's Pilar rum began its journey in 2013, billing itself as a "spirited rum fit for an adventurer." The dark rum has been hailed as having a taste that's uniquely its own. Carefully selected rums from Florida, Central America and the Caribbean — places Hemingway was known to spend his time — are collected and unified before it is solera aged in bourbon, and port wine barrels. The final step to its maturity is a master blend and one more rest in Spanish sherry casks. The payoff is a rich sip, with a subtly sweet and earthy impact on the palate. As one might imagine, it's a robust rum, channeling Papa's charisma. Contact Papa's Pilar for more information on how you can visit the recently opened distillery in Key West. Lead bartender Jillian Cohen at Miami's Blackbird Ordinary, uses Papa's Pilar to mix up a sophisticated tropical cocktail—one that beckons the salty sea air, just like the Pilar.
Get the Recipe: Sea Mist