When Palm Beach County resident Wayne Street went diving this past May, he didn't expect to find a real treasure chest. While it didn't contain jewels or gold doubloons, it did reveal a different kind of pirate booty: rum.
Black Coral Rum, to be precise — or rather it was a treasure chest filled with gift certificates to local businesses and a message telling him he was the lucky winner of a free bottle of the locally made rum.
And there's more. For just over one year, Black Coral Rum founder Ben Etheridge has been dumping similar "treasure" chests containing up to $80,000 worth of prizes into the Atlantic Ocean, from Fort Pierce south to Key West. Each chest contains a real treasure (and a not-so-real bottle of his rum). The idea, he says, is to help spread the word about his South Florida-made liquor in a very Florida way: diving.
The Riviera Beach-based distiller has partnered with several local businesses to put his plan to action, including Pompano Dive Center, Florida Scuba Charters in Riviera Beach, Tuppen's Marine & Tackle in Lake Wort, Blackfin Rods in Stuart, and Pura Vida Dive Center in Singer Island. Together, they're giving away everything form dive certifications and dive trips to equipment like fishing rods, reels, GoPro cameras, spearguns, and — of course — free bottles of rum.
Each wooden chest contains different prizes as well as a water-filled bottle of Black Coral Rum. The "shipmate" chest includes anywhere from $25 to $50 in prizes like gift certificates to local restaurants and businesses. The "helmsman" and "commodore" chests offer larger prizes ranging from dive trips to certification classes and spear guns.
"It's stuff like this that makes us part of South Florida," says Etheridge. "This is what it means to be a local company."
In June, the local rum distiller took home a double-gold medal for its white and spiced rums, beating well-known brand name competitors like Bacardi in a blind taste test during the 2016 Seattle International Spirits Awards conference, considered the Pacific Northwest’s largest and most comprehensive distilled spirits and liqueurs awards program.
Today, Black Coral Rum staff — mainly Etheridge and his father — distill up to 80 cases each week of both their white and spiced rums. In the last year, the company has grown considerably; you can now find the locally made spirit behind the bar at a number of restaurants from Stuart to the Keys as well as on the shelves at every Total Wine and Publix liquor store in the state.
Expect to see a new black spiced rum soon, adds Etheridge, as well as an upcoming limited release: Black Coral Rum's select reserve, a four-year aged rum. The aging process — a combination of three years spent in heavy-char white American oak barrels and one year finished in port wine barrels — lends a natural mellow, buttery, sweeter finish.
"Over the last two years, we've seen tremendous support from the local community, both carrying and selling our rum," says Etheridge. "After Seattle, it's awesome to get recognized on an international level as well. Two guys in a little warehouse in Riviera Beach winning in a blind taste test competition to walk home with double gold? It just proves that the craft guys do it better."
But it's not all about the profits. For Etheridge, it's also about giving back to the community that supports him. On June 24, the company made its second donation to Operation 300, a Hobe Sound-based nonprofit organization that features one of the highest donation schedules in the country. So when you buy a bottle of Black Coral Rum, you're also drinking and toasting to a good cause: For every bottle sold, Black Coral Rum donates $1 to Operation 300, a local veterans' organization that supports the families — mainly the widows and children — of fallen service members.
For now, you can find your own bottle of Black Coral Rum at Total Wine — or you could be the next lucky Black Coral Rum dive winner. If you happen across a wooden box with the ultimate prize, you'll be Etheridge's biggest winner: Black Coral Rum delivered to your door for life.
"It's not an easy one to find, so good luck to anyone who's out there searching for it," says Etheridge.
Black Coral Rum is located at 1231 W. 13th Street, Riviera Beach; 561-766-2493; blackcoralrum.com.