Make us your home page
Instagram

Bar review: Florida Cane Distillery is new taste of Ybor

This one's a little different. That's good, though — I like different, especially when it comes to Ybor City, which can be a bit one-speed at times.

The Florida Cane Distillery started out in a modest east Tampa business park — the kind that looks like outdoor-access storage units, but for businesses — shipping out its first batch of Florida-sourced, small-batch sugarcane vodka made from a tiny, six-column still in 2012.

Earlier this month, the Florida Cane Distillery held its grand opening on 15th Street in Ybor — in the space that used to belong to Row Boat, previously home of the best falafel in Ybor City. (I still miss it.) The new space is twice the size of the old one and now includes a tasting room, microdistillery and barrel room.

But let me slow down a bit and explain what these folks are up to. The Florida Cane Distillery is the creation of Lee Nelson and Pat O'Brien, two distillers who wanted to create a line of spirits made entirely with locally sourced ingredients. Marketed as "100% Florida-distilled," the ensuing line of vodkas were indeed a home-state affair.

The vodka base, which is typically made with grain or potatoes, is instead made with sugarcane, an ingredient more commonly associated with rum. The flavored varieties often include the source in their names: Weeki Wachee Watermelon, Okeechobee Cherry, Orlando Orange, and Plant City Strawberry, for example. There are 11 vodkas in all, including the unflavored version, and everything contained in each bottle — from the sugarcane, to the fruit, to the water — is from Florida.

More recently, the distillery released a line of four flavored, 109-proof moonshines (corn-based, un-aged whiskey), as well as Tamiami Gin, which is flavored with juniper, cucumber, coriander and tangerine. The new barrel room space will allow the distillery to work on barrel-aged gin in the future, as well as whiskey and rum.

So here's the cool and also slightly weird part: Florida laws forbid the selling of spirits at a distillery, so the Florida Cane Distillery, with its prime, foot-traffic-heavy location and cozy, minimalist tasting room, can't sell you drinks if you happen to stop in during your next trip to Ybor.

Instead, you're welcome to try free samples of the various Florida Cane Distillery products, and if you find one you like, bottles sell for $25 each. Just please don't drink them in the back alley.

Although the tasting-room experience is admittedly quite different from its analogue in the beer world — there, you can legally drink as many 10 percent imperial stouts as you'd like — it's one that's entirely worth a trip, especially if you plan on making the rounds in Ybor, as many do during a typical visit. The nearby Bernini, Tequilas and Carne restaurants all serve speciality cocktails featuring the Florida Cane Distillery's Ybor-made vodkas.

If you go, check the website in advance for tour times every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Tours include samples of vodka, gin and moonshine, as well as a quick walk-through of the distillery and recipes for cocktails you can make at home. I was surprised at how much I didn't know about the vodka-making process, and I'm sure you will be, too. I've unfairly dismissed vodka as a "characterless" spirit in the past; learning about it in depth has given me a new appreciation for the stuff.

Starting in the summer, there are plans to offer classes on distilling as well. In the meantime, the Florida Cane Distillery represents an unusual type of bar experience in Ybor. You can't hang out for hours sipping a broad range of cocktails, but you can take a peek into Florida's relatively new craft distillery scene, sample the goods, and take a spirit made locally and of exclusively Florida ingredients home to enjoy later, maybe after hitting up a couple of other Ybor bars and breweries.

I'll miss the falafel, but I'm excited to see what comes out of this place.

jg@saintbeat.com; @WordsWithJG

The Florida Cane Distillery

1820 N 15th St., Tampa; (813) 347-6565; cane-vodka.com

The vibe: An Ybor-based microdistillery and tasting room, offering free samples and tours.

Booze: Liquor only. Samples are free. Take-home bottles are $25.

Specialty: The distillery's flagship product is its line of sugarcane-based vodkas, flavored with a variety of Florida-grown ingredients, such as strawberries from Plant City and watermelons from Weeki Wachee. The line is rounded out with a unique gin (flavored with juniper, cucumber, coriander and tangerine) and a line of intensely flavored 109-proof moonshines.

Hours: 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday; 3 to 9 p.m. Friday; noon to 9 p.m. Saturday; 1to 5 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday through Wednesday.

Bar review: Florida Cane Distillery is new taste of Ybor 05/26/16 [Last modified: Thursday, May 26, 2016 7:15pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. From the archives: Account of famed Riggs-King match heightens Tampa mob intrigue

    Tennis

    With the Sept. 29 opening of "Battle of the Sexes" — the movie starring Emma Stone and Steve Carrell about Billie Jean King's landmark 1973 tennis win over Bobby Riggs — we thought there might be renewed interest in this 2013 Peter Jamison story from the Tampa Bay Times.

    Emma Stone as Billie Jean King and Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs in "Battle of the Sexes."  [Melinda Sue Gordon, Fox Searchlight Pictures]
  2. Halloween Horror Nights: 'The Shining,' 'Saw' and more things to give you nightmares at Universal Orlando

    Blogs

    The 27th year of Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights will scare the pants off you -- in the best possible way.

    The scare zone inspired by horror flick Trick r' Treat is one of the most beautiful at this year's Halloween Horror Nights 27.
  3. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Sept. 22

    Events

    Arcade Fire: The wildly acclaimed indie rock outfit tour in support of their fifth album, Infinite Content. Presumably, the band will also play songs from their first few albums. Wolf Parade opens. 7 p.m., University of South Florida Sun Dome, 4202 E Fowler Ave., Tampa. $35-$75. (813) 974-3004.

    LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 08:  Musician Win Butler of Arcade Fire performs onstage during The 24th Annual KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas at The Shrine Auditorium on December 8, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Radio.com)
  4. What the 10 terms Merriam-Webster just added to the dictionary say about our foodie culture

    Cooking

    Joining "troll" (as in, a rude person on the Internet, not a bridge-dwelling creature), "alt-right" and "dog whistle," 10 food-related words were added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary this week. That's out of 250 new terms, a pretty good ratio that signals the ongoing shift toward a more food-obsessed culture, one …

    IPA is one of the words recently added to the dictionary.