There's one thing about making booze that's not like brewing beer in Florida: You can't make it at home without breaking the law.
And that was the inherent problem for Avi Aisenberg and Joe Durkin when they began their venture into South Florida Distillers, a distillery that recently opened for production in Fort Lauderdale.
"The beer guys have it a little different than craft distilling," Aisenberg says. "They can make it in a garage and give it out and do test batches."
Having been in the family plastics recycling business for most of his life, Aisenberg always felt he should own his own business too. And growing up in South Florida surrounded by sugar cane and being inspired by the television show Moonshiners, the thought came to him three years ago that he should start a distillery.
"One day, it just hit me that there's all this sugar around me and I should do something with it," Aisenberg says.
But much to Aisenberg's disappointment, starting a distillery wasn't the easiest thing in the world. It was like a chicken-or-the-egg scenario: He needed investors, but they needed a facility, which costs money. To top it off, the suppliers he was talking to don't do business with craft distillers, only industrial-scale ones.
He needed some equipment and a facility, which would have cost him up to $600,000, according Aisenberg. It was a tough sell to investors, but Aisenberg was able to wrangle the cash to get a facility and used his background in electrical engineering to design some automation equipment. He bought the smallest equipment he could buy, and in May 2014, he secured a facility that he needed to apply for a license.
South Florida Distillers received a license in November, and the facility is operating on a "micro-batch" basis, at least six days a week, producing 20 to 40 bottles per day, Aisenberg says.
Their first bottles of rum, FWAYGO, are about to go on sale and will retail for around $30. It's Florida-certified, Aisenberg says, with at least 51 percent of the product made with ingredients from Florida. The 300 gallons of aging barrels, which give the rum a deep bourbon taste, come from East Coast Wood Barrels in Long Island.
Even though the facility is producing, Durkin and Aisenberg are still working on getting a tasting room open. Unlike breweries, distilleries cannot sell their product directly from the premises (except for two bottles per person, per year, according to the law). They can only give limited quantities away for free.
Aisenberg says the tasting room should be open in the next month or so. The interior will be decorated with furniture supplied by Broward Design Center and it just so happens that all of it is for sale, he said.
Aisenberg says the distillery license allows for up to two brands. For now, they will be focusing on rum, since that's what people in South Florida seem to be drinking the most, he says.
"If you look at where rum is being consumed," Aisenberg says, "it's on the beach, in the hotels, and [on] the cruises."
South Florida Distillers, Inc. is located at 1110 Northeast 8th Avenue, #3C, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33304, or in North Fat Village near the intersection of US 1 and Sunrise. Visit southfloridadistillers.com.
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