Saturday, September 22, 2018
Bars & Spirits

Bar review: Sample whiskey, vodka, rum, absinthe and more at Fish Hawk Spirits in Ybor

While craft brewing has firmly entrenched itself in local drinking culture, craft distilling is still a very niche market. Part of this is due to outdated and arguably unfair distilling laws, and part of it is because successful distilling can often be a lot tougher and more time-consuming than brewing up a few batches of beer.

Fish Hawk Spirits is an exception to the rule, having consistently produced a wide range of spirits at its Ocala farm since 2012. Since then, the distillery has opened a storefront in Gainesville, and more recently, right here in Centro Ybor.

If you've visited any distilleries in Florida, you're already aware of the catch: Fish Hawk is unable to sell drinks directly to visitors, so they're forced to sell souvenir glasses instead, which come with a free tasting of several of Fish Hawk's products. Bottles of each spirit are available for purchase, so if you like what you try, you can always grab a bottle or two to take home.

Fish Hawk is in the old Pita's Republic space, but the interior has been transformed completely to match the rustic, farm-based feel of the home distillery in Ocala, where the majority of its spirits are still produced. Reclaimed wooden pallets, old whiskey barrels, a sliding barn door in the back and various equipment like a small copper still, a fruit press and an old grain mill give the place a laid-back, countryside look and feel that's pretty far removed from its actual Ybor surroundings.

As I've found to be the case with most distillery tasting setups, the whole process is as much about the finer details of each spirit as it is about just having a few tastes. You're not just going to sample the wares, you're going to learn about what goes into them, and how the ingredients and process affect the finished product. If you're curious like me, you'll love it — I wish more breweries had the ability to operate this way.

For $10, you can sample four of Fish Hawk's fruit-infused vodkas, as well as its molasses-based rums, tangerine brandy (they say 60 tangerines go into each bottle), and even a modern take on absinthe, featuring a variety of botanicals, including hibiscus, which gives it a ruby red color and floral nose. Amazingly, nearly all the ingredients used in these are sourced in Florida, from the fruit and sugarcane for the Island Grove vodkas, to the molasses for the Twisted Sun rums and the tangerines for the Marion 106 brandy. The only imported ingredients are the occasional spices — ginseng, clove, cinnamon — that aren't easily sourced in-state.

While all of these spirits were lively and generally excellent in quality, I was especially impressed with Fish Hawk's line of whiskeys called Sui Generis, which means "one of a kind" in Latin.

The line includes a traditional white whiskey (or moonshine, if you'd prefer) and a very popular bourbon-esque whiskey made with sweet silver queen corn from Fish Hawk's farm. I found the smokier, scotchlike whiskeys to be particularly excellent.

Conquistador 1513 is an oat-based whiskey, made from a mixture of smoked and raw oats, finished with charred American oak chips. It's surprisingly mild, with a blend of sweet graininess and mild campfire smoke.

Siren Song, on the other hand, uses corn instead of oats. Unlike Silver Queen, which uses the entire corn plant — husk and all — in the mash, Siren Song uses only the kernels, which are smoked to create a whiskey not dissimilar to the whiskies of Islay or the Scottish Highlands. It's very impressive, considering this whiskey is not distilled from malted barley.

In addition to these, Fish Hawk has begun dabbling in infused whiskeys, using Siren Song as the base. The flavor combinations are pretty diverse, ranging from mango-habanero-cilantro to fig-basil-thyme. Traditionalists may scoff, but these are really interesting spins on an already somewhat untraditional whiskey, which is not a trajectory, unlike the one we've seen with craft beer over the past decade.

If you're a spirits buff with a taste for the unusual and a thirst for learning about the nuts and bolts of what you're drinking, stop in for a tasting at Fish Hawk. These are real Florida spirits, from farm to glass, as it were. Craft distilling is on the rise — get in on it now, and you can brag to your friends later about how ahead of the curve you were.

Contact Justin Grant at [email protected] Follow @WordsWithJG.

     
 
Comments
Franklin on Twiggs restaurant opens in former downtown Tampa Pita Pit location

Franklin on Twiggs restaurant opens in former downtown Tampa Pita Pit location

DOWNTOWN — After a falling out with the Pita Pit corporate offices, Andrew Turek, the former owner of the SoHo location sold the property to Shula Burger and decided to open a new eatery and market called Franklin on Twiggs in the former downt...
Published: 09/21/18
Bar review: Punk meets Pilsner at Antibrewery in Dunedin

Bar review: Punk meets Pilsner at Antibrewery in Dunedin

Iíve had readers jokingly complain that Iíve exposed their off-the-radar watering holes that already are a carful away from becoming overcrowded. Itís like watching your favorite indie band achieve mainstream success: Itís good for them, but now youí...
Published: 09/20/18
Five ideas for date-night dinners at home

Five ideas for date-night dinners at home

For your next date night with your significant other, try staying in and cooking together. Meals eaten with your loved one are always sweeter. Literally."When we are in love Ö food tastes better," said Rachel Herz, an adjunct professor of psychiatry ...
Published: 09/19/18
Updated: 09/21/18
New restaurants: Olivia from Chris Ponte, Crabby Bill’s Off the Hook

New restaurants: Olivia from Chris Ponte, Crabby Bill’s Off the Hook

COMING SOON: OLIVIA Chris Ponte, right, has been a steady and notable culinary leader in our area for more than a decade with his flagship restaurant Cafe Ponte in Clearwater. A couple of years ago he mixed things up a bit by debuting On Swann in Hy...
Published: 09/19/18
Swizzle it: The tool bartenders turn to for a certain kind of cocktail

Swizzle it: The tool bartenders turn to for a certain kind of cocktail

TAMPA It’s a long stick with an irregular claw at the end, something a little macabre, like a skeletal monkey arm or a ritual tool made out of a chicken foot. It is crafted from the wood of the Quararibea turbinata tree, an aromatic and perenn...
Published: 09/19/18
What’s that bug gunk on your car? There’s an app for that

What’s that bug gunk on your car? There’s an app for that

Florida is rich in biomass. It’s got a lot of bugs. You’re driving down the highway, and all of a sudden — splat — a bug smacks your windshield, leaving a gooey glob on the glass. That’s the end of it from the bug’...
Published: 09/18/18
Pumpkin spice haters, back off: It’s okay to crave the seasonal flavor

Pumpkin spice haters, back off: It’s okay to crave the seasonal flavor

All right, okay, enough, I get it: You all hate pumpkin spice. But I’ve got one request as we head into fall: Can you just let us have this? There are many things on which to heap anger and despair right now, but please, that thing does not n...
Published: 09/18/18
A brown rice salad with asparagus thatís a hearty side dish

A brown rice salad with asparagus thatís a hearty side dish

This fresh, hearty side dish will stand out among its richer, creamier counterparts when the holidays roll around. We achieved perfectly cooked brown rice by boiling it in abundant water. Sprinkling the rice with bright lemon juice while it was still...
Published: 09/18/18
Restaurant review: The Local doesn't stand out enough above its Tampa neighbors to make an impact

Restaurant review: The Local doesn't stand out enough above its Tampa neighbors to make an impact

TAMPA Do you have this debate? "Florida is not in the South." "Um, look at a map." I guess I am in the former camp: It seems Florida gets more Southern the more north and west you go, accents only creeping in as reliably as boiled peanuts up on the ...
Published: 09/17/18
Updated: 09/18/18
Tampa Bay chefs get fresh platform at Bucs home games

Tampa Bay chefs get fresh platform at Bucs home games

TAMPA ó It was almost like a sitcom spit take. People in Buccaneers-red and Eagles-midnight green would walk up to the makeshift kitchen in the West Stadium Club, look at the huge poster of chef/restaurateur John Rivers, then glance at the guy in the...
Published: 09/17/18