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It all began when Alex Voss moved from Florida to Hawaii in the summer of 2012 to work on a landscaping project at a new Courtyard by Marriott on Maui. Hoping to experience the island beyond the duration of his assignment, Alex applied for a distillers apprenticeship on Craigslist at Haleakalā Distillers. After following up, he was hired on the spot and worked his way up to distiller in two short years, learning rum production using indigenous molasses. Thinking back to his roots in southwest Florida near Punta Gorda, he returned home and put his newly acquired skill set to the test creating a rum using 100-percent Florida molasses, sourced at a sugar mill near Lake Okeechobee, 70 miles east of what is now Alligator Bay Distillers in the town of Clewiston.
Alex and his brother Ben officially opened the distillery in 2015, and to this day split operating tasks according to their expertise, with Alex concentrating on production while Ben focuses on marketing and serving as chief mechanic and trouble shooter. They remain committed to small batch production using only locally sourced and consequently more flavorful cane. Another key ingredient they had to address was water quality since Florida has challenges in this regard. Reverse osmosis solved the problem and they were off to their seven-day fermentation process using an local dry yeast strain that thrives in southwest Florida's humidity, yielding a rum mash of 8 percent alcohol by volume. Double distillation in a traditional copper pot still to 70 percent abv retains much of the rum's molasses, cane, and other natural herb-and-spice ingredients.
As an added measure, Alligator Bay's fermentation tanks are temperature controlled to maintain consistent flavor profiles batch to batch. According to Alex, "there is no wrong or right way to produce rum but there is a standard of good and bad. Our flavor profile carries a fruity element similar to banana. Our flavor development progresses over time as we tinker with the recipe altering the proportion of cane sugar and yeast...something the big producers are unable to achieve due to sacrificing a unique flavor profile for volume." Their Sun Gold rum is lightly aged with a touch of Black Mangrove honey while their Saba Treasure is aged with a tincture of fennel. Alligator Bay's spiced rum, the tastiest rum of this type I've had yet, is infused with Florida orange peels, ginger root, cardamom, allspice, clove, star anise, and peppercorn.
Both Alex and Ben recommend visiting Alligator Bay Distillery in person and taking a tour to see their operation firsthand. Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach itself is quickly being discovered for its quiet off-the-beaten path beaches and other southwest Florida treasures like the Gulf Toast Local Brews and Spirits Trail, Muscle Car City Museum, and exploration of nature with Babcock Ranch Eco Tours.
Photos: Alligator Bay Distillers, Steve Mirsky, and PureFlorida.com. Coverage made possible by participating in a sponsored tasting.