The country’s only estate-grown sugar cane farm distillery is located in Lake Placid, Fla. During a lazy Saturday afternoon, I set my GPS toward the heart of the Sunshine State to taste handcrafted rum, vodka, moonshine and whiskey at Sugar Sand Distillery. And, the distillery is located less than 5 minutes from Henscratch Farms.
After a quick visit to Henscratch to pick some grapes and sample some wine, I headed down Henscratch Road to make it in time for a tasting and tour of Sugar Sand Distillery. It’s where I met Jessica Giffin, who co-owns the operation with her husband Don Davies. Her son, Scott Berden, led the tour after Ms. Giffin poured samples of rum, vodka, and moonshine. It was all smooth tasting and handcrafted spirits all had a clean flavor and no harsh aftertaste, or what I call, an afterbite. During the distillery tour, rum punch cocktails are served.
The rum is made with cane juice, currently sourced by local sugar cane farmers and soon from the distillery, like how rum is distilled in Cuba. The vodka, moonshine, and whiskey are made with corn sourced from local farmers and the moonshine smells and tastes like buttered popcorn. Yes. Buttered popcorn. I still need to figure what to mix it with, maybe a caramel liqueur to create a caramel popcorn flavored cocktail.
What does the country’s only estate-grown sugar cane farm distillery mean? It means sugar cane is growing steps away from the open-air distillery and once it is ready to harvest in late fall, Scott will be hand-cutting 1,000 stalks of sugar cane to be pressed for its juice and distilled into rum. Fun fact, it takes 250 gallons of sugar cane juice to yield 18 gallons of rum!
On 4.5 acres, there are about 9 acres of sugar cane because the family double-planted. Ms. Giffin explained a typically a sugar cane farm will plant rows 60 inches apart because machines harvest the cane.
Since the family will hand-cut and not use machinery, they planted rows 30 inches apart and maximized the land. They expect the crop to last about 8 years. Until theirs is ready to harvest, they have been sourcing the sugar cane from area farmers. Apparently, sugar cane juice is highly perishable, like what happens after cutting a banana or apple. It’s why you don’t see pure cane sugar juice for sale but in certain areas of the country you’ll see vendors press fresh sugar cane juice.
Although Sugar Sand Distillery opened to the public on April 7, 2018, it was a 53-week process leading up to the first pouring of spirits. The distillery is located on what was once an orange grove owned by the family and it fell to citrus greening disease. The couple have agricultural backgrounds and knew they wanted to keep the land agricultural. They decided on planting sugar cane and selling it as ornamental grass since it makes a practical hedge or to people who want to squeeze the sugar juice for personal use.
Crafting spirits was not a lifelong dream for the couple but like all great ideas, it came up one night after sitting around with friends while sipping cold beer. It seemed logical to convert sugar cane into rum. As the story goes, Ms. Giffin began ordering supplies on eBay and through trial and error, delicious handcrafted spirits were born.
Henscratch Farms and Sugar Sand Distillery are examples of agritourism being done well. They are showing visitors agricultural operations in action, where their food and beverages come from, and the faces of those working and caring for the land. And to them, I raise a glass.
Nuts & Bolts About Sugar Sand Distillery
Sugar Sand Distillery
264 Henscratch Road
Lake Placid, Fla. 33852
Tel: (863) 449-0470
Hours of operation:
Thursday, Friday and Saturday: 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Tour and tastings are $7.50 per person which includes tasting the rum, vodka, and moonshine, plus a rum-cocktail served during the distillery tour and a $5 off coupon which can be used on spirits or distillery souvenirs. Tours are led every hour on the hour.
Note: Currently, the only location to purchase Sugar Sand Distillery spirits is directly from the distillery but they are looking into having it available elsewhere.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links to support this blog, my traveling habit, and my special-needs dog.