Once Florida’s archaic distilling laws catch up to the 21st century, it’s easy to imagine a renaissance of sorts, akin to the brewery boom that saw the bay area’s beer producers explode tenfold within a few years.
Until that happens, small Florida distilleries will continue to be a niche market, with weird tasting-room laws and a relatively small range of products available for consumers looking to drink local with the hard stuff.
It’s interesting to see how distilleries navigate their inability to sell liquor directly to guests for on-site consumption. You can buy a bottle of booze in a tasting room, but you can’t drink it there. The bar can serve you “samples,” but it can’t charge you for them. Some distilleries sell tours that just happen to include a tasting.
The experience is pretty unusual if you’re used to merely drinking local beers with the exact same alcohol content as a shot or cocktail of locally produced spirits.
Seminole Heights’ 82° West Distilling is among the better distillery experiences in the area, offering two sample pours per guest of its diverse range of rums, as well as a choice of 18 house cocktails showcasing said rums, all in the hopes that you’ll leave with a bottle on your way out.
It’s a nautically themed affair, if you couldn’t tell by the coordinates in the name and the fact that it exclusively deals in rum. A long deck stretches along the patio on a buzzing Florida Avenue, offering great sidewalk views of the world passing by.
Inside, there are spent barrels for decoration, some tropical paintings and a boat façade bar, complete with boat chairs as bar stools. There are TVs behind the bar, which seems an odd choice for a place where you’re limited to two samples, but 82° West has proven to be a low-key hangout of sorts to in-the-know locals.
All of the rums at 82° West — save for the Coconut Breeze, which uses silver rum sourced from across the bay at St. Petersburg Distillery — are molasses-based rums, with Gulf Coast Gold Rum as the base spirit.
From there, a variety of treatments are used, from heavily charred oak barrels used in the 1911 dark rum, to rye whiskey barrels used to age the limited-edition 420 rum.
There are smoked serranos and cardamom in the fantastically bold Mutiny, while the much lighter Paradise uses cardamom, clove and vanilla for a more traditional take on spiced rum.
If you’re even remotely into rum, you’ll enjoy the experience. It’s hard to argue with free samples, especially when they come in the form of truly good craft cocktails.
You can also ask what your bartender has been digging lately. That got me an off-menu Moa Moa, named after the moai carvings that make frequent appearances in tiki-bar culture. Mine was made with Mutiny spiced rum, fresh mango juice, bitters and lime juice.
Naturally, there’s an urge to buy something on the way out, and I encourage it. Most of the bottles are $25, with the 420 rum topping out at $45. That’s an absolute bargain, especially considering you’ve received a pretty solid “discount” in the way of two samples on the house.
Forget about the wacky sample loophole. At 82° West Distilling. there are the makings of a solid cocktail spot. Someday Florida will create a pathway for local distilleries to be able to serve their products directly to guests, which would be an exciting development.
Until then, 82° West has a rum for just about anyone, and sipping on a piña colada in a boat chair in the middle of Seminole Heights is something we can all support.
— Justin Grant is a tbt* correspondent. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @WordsWithJG.
82° West Distilling
6430 N Florida Ave.
(813) 820-0944; 82westrum.com
The vibe: A breezy, nautical-themed distillery tasting room featuring a range of in-house rums.
Booze: Two free samples of rum (neat, on the rocks or in a cocktail) per guest. Bottles to go, $25–$45.
Specialty: The rums at 82° West start out as the molasses-based Gulf Coast Gold Rum and end up in a variety of unique formats, ranging from the rye whiskey barrel-aged 420 to the cardamom- and smoked serrano pepper-infused Mutiny. If you’d like to see how a particular rum holds up in a cocktail, you’ve got 18 house cocktails to choose from, ranging from a classic mojito to rum-based takes on the Bloody Mary and Old Fashioned.
Hours: 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday; 5 p.m. to midnight Friday; noon to midnight Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday-Tuesday.