tbt* ultimate bar guide: a look at some of the Tampa Bay’s most dynamic boutique distilleries

Kozuba and Sons, Florida Cane and St. Petersburg Distillery make the list.
Kozuba and B Square vodkas. B Square is a brand produced by Kozuba and Sons.
Kozuba and B Square vodkas. B Square is a brand produced by Kozuba and Sons. [ xxxxx ]
Published Sept. 14, 2019|Updated Sept. 16, 2019

Less than 100 years ago, Tampa was celebrated as the bootlegging capital of the South. Exotic rum was shipped from the Caribbean and stored anywhere that was considered safe — including underground. Liquor sales persisted despite nationwide Prohibition, and the rebel spirit of distilling endured throughout the following generations.

Kozuba and Sons

1960 5th Ave. S, St. Petersburg

Kozuba & Sons is a popular, family-owned craft distillery that specializes in vodka and whiskey.

The family hails from Poland, where the mastermind behind it all, Papa Kozuba, retired from biochemistry. He used his extensive knowledge of chemical engineering to distill the finest liquors, which eventually became a full-fledged business.

Kozuba and his family settled in St. Petersburg, where they tapped into the locally engaged community and became a staple in neighborhood liquor stores.

If you have not had the chance to sip on the exquisite vodkas or whiskies produced in the heart of Sunshine City, the Kozuba family will guide you in a professional tasting to ensure you get the full experience. Tours run Thursday through Sunday and are available by appointment to ensure your spot in a 30-minute walkthrough and 30-minute tasting.

After sipping on fresh liquors taken straight from the source, your palete will thank you for visiting and confirm the buzz that Papa Kozuba has spent his retirement building.

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Florida Cane

1820 N 15th St., Tampa

Ybor City’s Florida Cane Distillery also utilized their community’s enthusiasm to grow a successful business.

A high demand for grain to glass liquors inspired the Tampa distillery to protest laws that prevented direct sale to customers. The bill was passed for bottles, and today a similar law is being considered that would allow craft distilleries to sell liquor by the glass.

But Cane Distillery is not only popular for its politics. Their facility boasts 800 square feet of high-grade equipment, and hosts a distilling school where students learn to make their own whiskey from start to finish.

Florida Cane also offers free tours and rents out their spacious venue to private gatherings. A gem of Ybor, anyone who considers themselves a connoisseur of local spirits should plan on making a night of visiting this beloved distillery.

St. Petersburg Distillery

800 31st St. S, St. Petersburg

Another Bay-based distillery, simply named but impressively productive, is likely behind your favorite local spirit. St. Petersburg Distillery fills bottles for popular names like Old St. Pete and Banyan Reserve, as well as the lesser known but equally delicious brands: Tipplers, Oak & Palm, and Royal Mead. The distillery has achieved widespread recognition for its unique gins and vodkas, and continues to supply its fine liquors across the nation.

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The distillery’s staff pride themselves on promoting the innovative spirit of Tampa Bay, and providing the tastes and experiences that visitors will take with them long after tourist season. Tropical gins are a company staple that may be enjoyed neat, or in one of the delicious cocktail recipes provided on the distillery website.

Don’t skip the tours and tastings offered at the state-of-the-art facility in St. Pete’s warehouse district.

American Freedom Distillery

2232 5th Ave. S, St. Petersburg

American Freedom Distillery takes the valued independence synonymous with the history of distilling and uses it to fuel their passion for quality craft liquors.

Anticipated startup in St. Petersburg’s Warehouse Arts District, the company is co-founded by a group of veterans who chose to take on craft liquor and entrepreneurship as their second career moves.

Their business model is simple: First, the friends distill liquors they enjoy drinking, and then they sell the rest.

Specializing in whiskey, but delving into vodka and rum, the company ages their liquors in hearty wooden barrels and uses repurposed steel from the Twin Towers in the bottling of their Horse Soldier Whiskey. But their claim to fame is more than specialized bottles and robust patriotism.

The crew’s distillers have traveled all over the world learning the art of spirit making. From Jim Beam facilities in Kentucky, to remote operations in central America, American Freedom whiskey takes influence from the best aspects of each one.

Customers enjoy American Freedom whiskey neat, on ice, or with a splash of water, and keep coming back for the sweet flavorings and sharp bite. Their gin is also popular for its distinct floral notes and rich color. American freedom will begin welcoming tour groups in fall of this year to show off their 17,000 square foot distilling and event space.

82 West Rum

6430 N Florida Ave., Tampa

Also taking pride in the rebellious spirit of drinking and distilling is 82 West, a rum company serving Seminole Heights.

The pirate-themed distillery features ambitious flavors of rum that stand out against their gin- and whiskey-centric competitors. Notes of coffee and coconut embolden some of their staples and bring the consumer back to the days of mutiny and keelhauling in Tampa Bay. They even have a Gasparilla-themed rum with hints of cardamom and smoked peppers to wake up your palette.

The distillery offers free samplings if you find yourself nearby, and bottles are affordable and delicious. The duo behind the distillery provide top-notch cocktail recipes on the website to give customers the best drinking experience they can offer.

Dark Door Spirits

The owners of Dark Door Spirits don’t mind nervous customers. After all, they aim to craft rare and curious drinks.

Calling upon techniques long forgotten over time, the craft distillery offers prohibition-style spirits with unexpected infusions. Operating in Tampa, the distillers have created two signature products: An IPA-imbued whiskey and a lavender-soaked gin.

Dark Door’s Spirit of IPA Whiskey is produced by running delicious beer from the Safety Harbor brewery, Crooked Thumb, through a pot still. It’s not beer mash. This whiskey uses actual beer, and its creators are not worried about it standing out.

This authenticity of ingredients and boldness in flavor is also utilized in their Spirit of Prohibition gin. The gin holds heavy notes of lavender, but after the aging process, where it gains a unique light-brown color, the gin also carries slight hints of coriander, citrus, and rose.

Dark Door’s operation is not yet open to the public, but they are in the process of debuting a tasting room where patrons can sample their unique inventions in person. For now, their bottles are available in an array of local retail stores as well as the company website.