The craft movement has been making its way across the Florida panhandle for some time now, mostly in the form of refreshing, one-of-a-kind beer brands. Offering a wide variety of tastes and flavors, locally-owned craft breweries thrive because most often, their beer simply tastes better than mass-produced alternatives.
In tandem with this movement, craft distilleries are an emerging trend along the Emerald Coast, popping up in cities like Gulf Breeze, Santa Rosa Beach, Milton and Crestview. The five craft distilleries that call northwest Florida home strive to create unique spirits, educate consumers and promote the craft distillery concept across the area.
The distillery process demands something that can be fermented, and local Emerald Coast operations are universally taking advantage of the vast natural resources in the area. From molasses to grains and locally-grown fruits, these businesses create uniquely-Florida flavors while they support others in their communities.
Timber Creek Distillery in Crestview creates 10 different products — including rum, vodka, whiskey and gin — using a pure-blend process that distills each grain individually. This process matters because different grains cook at different temperatures, so distilling each one individually allows Master Distiller Aaron Barnes to optimize the fermentation and capture the ideal flavor profile of each one.
“By distilling each individual grain, we can optimize the flavors coming out,” said President Camden Ford. “Depending on how the grains are behaving, we can get more alcohol out with bolder flavors. Most of the big distilleries don’t have a lot of involvement on a batch-to-batch basis in determining the flavor of the whiskey, so there’s not a lot of art to it.”
Because Timber Creek distills each grain separately, they are the first-ever to offer a bourbon blending kit that comes with a bottle of corn whiskey, wheat whiskey, rye whiskey and barley whiskey so you can create your own whiskey blend.
Timber Creek, which was named Best Distillery on the Emerald Coast for the last two years, is building a brand new distillery and will offer tours beginning after Labor Day. Contact them via Facebook or email to set up a tour.
Also located in Crestview, Peaden Brothers Distillery produces a variety of moonshines using a 200-year-old family recipe that is local to the area. Bartlett Peaden, one of the first settlers in Okaloosa County, created the recipe, and all of the company’s products have ties to its roots.
The craft distillery produces five different varieties of moonshine and sources its corn out of Milton. In addition, the team also produces intermittent batches of bourbon, rye, single malt and rum throughout the year. Peaden Brothers operates in Crestview’s Fox Theater which dates back to the 1940s.
“We had bourbon connoisseurs comment that they couldn’t believe we were producing great whiskey in such a small space,” said Robert Ellis, co-owner of Peadens. “You don’t need a big space to make good whiskey.”
Peaden Brothers is open Wednesday through Saturday, 12-5 and they offer tours of the small craft distillery process. Connect with them on Facebook for more information.
Rollins Distillery, located in Gulf Breeze, was the first licensed distillery in the panhandle, founded in 2011. Operated by father-and-son team Paul and Patrick Rollins, the small craft distillery produces rum and vodka distilled from 100 percent Florida molasses.
“We want to educate the consumer about our process because ultimately, it’s through education that consumers will understand how spirits are made and how they are to be cared for and enjoyed,” Patrick said. “We create craft products, and we aren’t just trying to feed the bottom line.”
Rollins Distillery is working to build relationships with farmers and growers in the panhandle so they can take advantage of local resources to produce spirits that are drawn from the region. Big picture, the Rollins family hopes to take advantage of Florida’s natural resources to bring business into the state and specifically into the panhandle.
Rollins Distillery offers tours of its facilities by appointment and invites visitors to call or message them on Facebook for more information.
Scratch Ankle Distillery in Milton derives its name from local history and the thistles and thorns that settlers encountered when they arrived in the Milton area.
“Our spirits are unconventional,” said Distillery Manager Evan Doyle. “They are flavorful, robust, and they punch above their weight. Everything is fermented, processed, distilled, and bottled here.”
Scratch Ankle Distillery focuses primarily on a variety of rums and moonshines, but they have also produced vodka, a young bourbon, a bourbon-barrel-aged rum and rum-soaked cherries. And when they can go local, they do: the team uses unprocessed raw blackstrap molasses from Florida, as well as corn and rye from within the state. The distillery also sends its spent grains to a local farmer who uses them to feed his pigs.
Scratch Ankle Distillery offers tours Wednesday through Saturday, noon to 6 and Sunday, noon to 4.
The newest of the bunch, Distillery 98, is located in Santa Rosa Beach and will deal primarily in vodka, rum, and whiskey.
“It is our goal to highlight this great state and the beautiful Emerald Coast that we get to call home,” said owner and CEO Harrison Holditch. “We want to spread our passion for craft spirits to the passionate people of (Highway) 98.”
Distillery 98 makes its spirits grain-to-glass using a one-of-a-kind oyster shell filter and Florida panhandle corn. Additionally, the distillery shares a green space with Idyll Hounds Brewing Company.
Distillery 98 will open for tastings in September and will release its first bottle in October. For more information, check out the company’s Facebook page.
These local distilleries are building a following across the Emerald Coast, and many of them can be found in local establishments around the area.
“The industry as a whole has an advantage that the beer guys don’t in that most people don’t know what the liquor they are drinking is supposed to taste like,” Ford said. “We have to teach people what good spirits taste like.”