Coronavirus has wreaked havoc on South Florida's seasonal highlights. Stone crab season ended last month with nary a mention, and mango season has quietly tiptoed in.
Any other year, locals would be posting photos of their mango hauls from local trees. Chefs would be sharing recipes for mango butter and mango bread, and there would be announcements for mango festivals.
Fed up with self-quarantine, our baking skills all wasted on banana bread, most of us just want to drink.
Enter Buzzy Sklar, who recently unveiled J.F. Haden's mango liqueur, a small-batch cordial made with purée from locally grown mangos and distilled in Jacksonville. Once opened, the liqueur requires no refrigeration and lasts for two years.
Sklar describes the liqueur as "basically mango purée with 20 percent alcohol by volume" and says it's a perfect mixer for all kinds of South Florida-themed drinks. "You can make the best tasting mango mimosas, mango margaritas, and mango martinis with Haden's. It also makes a refreshing spritz." Sklar also suggests using the liqueur to marinate shrimp or chicken. "We made a drunken shrimp ceviche that was off the charts," he shares.
The liqueur takes its name from the Haden mango, which originated in 1902 when retired U.S. Army Capt. John J. Haden planted four dozen seedlings of Mulgoba (AKA Mulgova) mangos at his Coconut Grove home. Haden died the following year, but his wife Florence cultivated the trees, which would then produce brightly colored fruit. The new fruit, likely a cross between the Mugoba and Turpentine mangos, was given the Haden family name. The Haden mango would go on to become the parent mango of most Florida mango varieties.
"I wanted to do a real Florida product that tasted like real mangos," Sklar says, explaining that he threw in a different middle initial to keep things fictional. "No one's done a really good craft mango liqueur."
The entrepreneur, who opened the since-shuttered restaurants Hank & Harry's Delicatessen and Sliderz, said he always loved the spirits industry, but competing against the big vodka and tequila brands would be too difficult. He also wanted to stay in the hospitality industry. "The restaurant business has been good to me and it's also been terrible to me. I got sick of the ups and downs of operating restaurants, but now I can still be part of the hospitality industry."
J.F. Haden's was officially launched in October. Sklar says it's gaining traction as he drives around South Florida to introduce his product to restaurants as they reopen. "We've been very well received," reports Sklar, speaking by phone from the road. "Mixologists are using us instead of mango purée."
So far, restaurants from Shuckers on the 79th Street Causeway to South Florida's Ritz-Carltons have placed the mango potable on their shelves. It's also available in 750-milliliter bottles for $30 at ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, Crown Wine & Spirits, select Total Wine stores, and other local retailers.
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Sklar has high hopes for Haden's. He plans to move the distillation operations to F.A.T. Village in Fort Lauderdale, which will house a tasting room. And he plans to expand the line with other flavors such as key lime, guava, and even hibiscus.
It has been said that the alcohol industry is recession-proof because people either celebrate or drown their sorrows in booze. In Sklar's case, it doesn't hurt that the mango liqueur tastes good.
"The biggest compliment I've heard is that the liqueur tastes just like a mango," he says.
A mango that can get you drunk might be exactly what South Florida needs right about now.