A day after touring a first-class micro-distillery, we head inland to visit the opposite end of the spectrum; an enormous operation called Florida Caribbean Distillers.
by Mike Streeter
We drove through rural Florida for quite a while before we entered a small industrial area about 30 miles east of Tampa. Our mission for the day was to tour a large, somewhat mysterious distillery that few from our group had actually heard of. Honestly, we didn’t know what to expect, but the anticipation was high among our team of rummies. Big smoke stacks and giant storage buildings dotted the landscape and I started to wonder if we’d made a wrong turn. As we drove up to one of the largest of the large operations we saw the sign: Florida Caribbean Distillers. Guess this is the right place.
We checked in with security and made our way to a conference room inside the main office building. We were greeted by Jacob Call, one of the bigwigs within the Florida Caribbean Distillers organization. He tells us about the history of FCD and soon we realize its scale.
This is the oldest continuously running distillery in the country, established in 1943. They are the largest rum producer in the US, but that’s just the beginning of the story. They also produce gin, vodka and whiskey, have a winery and a brewery. They distill more liquor than Jim Beam on an annual basis, with nearly half of that being bulk sales. They bottle all rum for Cruzan and several smaller labels for contract clients including cruise lines and duty free shops. They produce, bottle and ship 250k cases of Ron Carlos annually and are expanding their line of spirits.
Our tour starts with a look at the area where molasses is received by the tanker truck load and is blended with yeast for fermentation. The whole process is high tech and completely controlled from a small computer room within the maze of tanks. The fermentation tanks are giant and viewed by winding through a series of staircases and walkways. This place is massive.
Once fermented, the mash is automatically separated and transferred to the still. As you would expect, the series of column stills at FCD are several stories high and operate continuously. Another guy behind a computer screen keeps track of this operation.
After distillation, the product is pumped to holding tanks and tested for quality. Aged products are transferred to barrels and the unaged products go to filtering, flavoring (if necessary) and bottling.
The bottling plant is giant, loud, fast and incredible to watch. Cruzan White was being bottled the day of our tour and the entire plant smelled wonderful.
Everything is then boxed and stored before it heads out to distribution. There was something about the storage space at FCD that was reminiscent of the last scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. It was just HUGE!
FCD has a long running contract with Cruzan, but have been making a push lately with their own products. The Ron Carlos line of rums moves off the FCD shelves at a fast clip and they are getting ready to launch a new spiced rum called Black Roberts. We were able to sample it and expect it to be a top seller.
The entire Florida Caribbean Distllers operation was beyond my expectations. It is a marvel of modern technology and something that every rum aficianado should see. Thanks to our new friends at FCD for the amazing tour. We look forward to hearing more about your new line of rums and hope to see bottles of Black Roberts Spiced at our local spirits shop very soon.