Dick and Marti Waters took the plunge at the beginning of 2009, transforming their horse barn near Umatilla into Central Florida's first legal micro-distiller of whiskey and one of just a handful in the state.
On April 4, their Palm Ridge Reserve whiskey hit the big time, taking a silver medal in Louisville, Ky., at the American Distilling Institute's sixth annual judging of artisan American spirits. In the "non-typical whiskey" category, Palm Ridge was singled out along with prestigious distilleries from Texas to Tennessee out of 244 total entries for whiskey, rum and brandy.
In small, 4 1/2-gallon batches, the Waterses make their whiskey from a mix of corn, barley malt, regular rye and toasted flake rye. The smoky aroma and sweet vanilla and hazelnut on the palate of the resulting amber liquid clearly wowed the judges.
"We were not able to attend and to the best of our knowledge there were no tasting notes given," Dick Waters said. "American Distilling Institute contacted us and asked us to send an entry. This is our first competition and our first medal."
With this win under their belts, will Palm Ridge expand its product line?
"We would like to expand the lineup, but we have been preoccupied establishing Palm Ridge Reserve in our Florida market."
In the Tampa Bay area, Palm Ridge Reserve has found its way into restaurants from SideBern's to Ella's Americana Folk Art Cafe, and in liquor stores from Total Wine to Publix. A 750-milliliter bottle retails for about $50.
Laura Reiley can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2293.