From time to time I do have the right to write about non-beer things, especially if they promote the great state of Florida. So when Avi Aisenberg, proprietor of South Florida Distillers, contacted me, naturally, I jumped at the chance to visit.
South Florida Distillers is located in Ft. Lauderdale, in a small industrial park just off Sunrise Blvd. It’s located in a sizeable building, between Broward Design center and a brewery that’s still under construction (I’ll get more details on them later).
As of right now, South Florida Distillery’s biggest claim to fame is Fwaygo, a white rum that recently took home a gold medal for Premium White Rum at this year’s Miami Rum Renaissance Festival.
Avi was nice enough to show me around the distillery space, or studio as they call it, and give me some interesting information about the business and how it compares to brewing. Which is by a lot.
Unlike beer, whiskey, vodka, and most other alcoholic drinks, rum is fermented straight from a sugar source: sugar cane. To get the sugar cane juice, Avi and his team source their high grade, low ash molasses from farmers in Palm Beach County. There’s no need for additional sugars or flavorings, they’re just interested in using the good stuff.
The molasses is mixed with local, lightly filtered water and yeast, then put in these giant plastic tubs to ferment. The rum is allowed to ferment as long as it needs to ferment, which is usually around 2-2 1/2 weeks.
At this point, my beer purist readers may notice two things: the water and the plastic tubs. Avi had a great explanation for both of these. If you think of brewing, once the beer finishes fermentation, it goes straight to a holding tank to await being served to a lucky individual. With spirits, fermentation is just the first step. There’s a long way to go after that.
In comes distillation. Basically, all of the fermented molasses is brought into these two girls, heated to a boil, and allowed to let the alcohol escape as vapor, to be collected into the finishing still you see at the far end to be distilled into rum.
It’s not all used, though. Basically, once the distilling starts, the alcohol ‘comes out’ in three distinct stages. First is the ‘head,’ which is very high in alcohol and a bunch of other chemicals that you really don’t want to have as part of your finished product.
Next is the ‘heart,’ or the properly crafted and most desirable alcohol. Finally, the ‘tail,’ or the end, has the least alcohol from the distillation. When making Fwaygo, it’s the head and the tail that are set aside and usually dumped. You want the heart, my friends.
South Florida Distillers isn’t just focused on making Fwaygo. They actually contract distill as well, and while I was there they were in the process of producing a spirit for a client. It’s not something I can really talk about, unfortunately, but it will be, and I quote, “a speciality spirit from a sugar source that resembles a cross between molasses and honey, harvested half way around the world.” Tell me that doesn’t sound enticing.
Here’s where Avi shared with me an interesting business plan South Florida Distillers has put into place. Budding distillers in the area do not need to go through the legal hoops of building their own distillery (and there are a lot. more so than a brewery). Avi and his team are a one-stop shop for people wanting to make their first alcohols. The recipes will be listed as South Florida Distillers, so they will handle all of the legal paperwork. In that way, the distillery is sort of like an art studio where people can make their first batches of alcohol without a giant investment.
That being said, distilling alcohol at home is illegal. You can brew beer and ferment wine, but you cannot distill spirits. End of lesson.
Of course there was a barrel program in place, too. Avi and Joe actually traveled to Long Island to meet with a cooper and toast their barrels to one of four different char levels, charring being the ‘cooking’ of the inside of the barrel to bring out different flavors as the rum ages.
I was lucky enough to get a small sample of Fwaygo that had been aging in a char level 3 barrel (4 is the highest level of char) since February.
The rum had such a dark, rounded and mature flavor to it. There were hints of dark fruit and roasted vanilla, with an almost Bourbon-like smoothness. It’s wonderfully complex and yet incredibly mellow and soft.
I also coughed a few times. Beer has made me such a lightweight.
The barrels are starting to get some attention in the craft beer community, with Kyle from Lauderale picking up a barrel only a few weeks ago, and other barrels being promised to brewers elsewhere in South Florida. There’s already a lot of talk between South Florida Distillers and the brewery they share a building with. Especially when it comes to the rightly flavorful char barrels, I can see brewers wanting to grab these as fast as possible.
Finally, I got a taste of the flagship Fwaygo. And it was as smooth and flavorful as you would expect. Very soft, lightly sweet, and without a trace of harshness. It would be excellent on its own, and apparently mixes very well, too.
So, where do you go to find Fwaygo? Well, they’re not found in retail stores as of yet. If you want, however, contact South Florida Distillers and you can head to the distillery itself to purchase a bottle or two. But not more than two.
Seriously, it’s state law. They can only sell up to two bottles of each spirit they make or will make per person per year. Yes, by law they have to track that as well. It used to be two bottles per person per year total, but the change was enacted with the 64 oz growler law that went into effect on July 1st.
You can also go to various restaurants around Ft. Lauderdale, such as the Tap 42 family of restaurants, Mellow Mushroom, Rythym and Vine, & Market 17. They have bottles and mixed drinks featuring Fwaygo as well. And keep a lookout for some special Fwaygo bottle releases; there are quite a few special releases coming in the near future, including one of Fwaygo infused with grilled pineapple that sounds incredible.
Hope to see them increasing distribution very soon.
Drink Florida Craft (rum),