The Vodka Experience at Florida Cane Distillery

Saturday night, my Wife and I did something different and attended a vodka tasting event at a local Tampa based distiller.

The Florida Cane Distillery was started in 2012 by Lee Nelson and Pat O’Brien and is located at 501 S. Falkenberg Road in Tampa.


Lee and Pat first started out with a Premium Vodka offering. After that, they distilled naturally flavored vodkas that use ingredients from local farmers in the area. The flavored vodkas are named Beach Bum Berry , Buccaneer Blueberry, Gator Grape, Key West Lemon and Lime, Miami Mango, Okeechobee Cherry, Orlando Orange, Plant City Strawberry and Weeki Wachee Watermelon. A new flavor that is coming soon will be called Florida Fire Ant, a jalapeno flavored vodka.

We arrived about 20 minutes early for the tasting and there was one other couple at the distillery’s bar along with co-owner, Pat O’Brien. Somehow, the small talk between the five of us included Fireball whiskey and Pat mentioned that Florida Cane was coming out with a whiskey series called “Sunshine Moonshine”. The series will consist of four, 109 proof flavored whiskies. Pat gave us a sample of their cinnamon flavored Sunshine Moonshine and I must admit, even though this sample is twice the proof, it was smoother and much more pleasant than Fireball. Sunshine Moonshine should be available in about 5 weeks.

After our impromptu taste of whiskey, the remaining people arrived and Pat began the vodka tasting.

First up was Florida Cane’s Premium Vodka. While Pat was pouring our samples, he mentioned that during a tasting, the vodka should be sampled in two sips. The first sip is to test the “bead” or how the vodka feels on your tongue. Does the vodka seem to sit on the tip of your tongue or does it flow past the tip to the rest of your tongue. The second sip should be used to examine the flavor of the vodka.

But, before you sip, you should smell and look at the sample shot. Depending on what the vodka is made from you can have a sweet or grainy aroma. Since Florida Cane vodkas are made from sugar cane, you can surmise that they will have a sweet flavor.

Next, we held the shot up to the light and looked at the sample. The sample of Premium Vodka that I had was very clear and had what Pat called a “gem like” quality.

Finally, we got to taste the sample. The Premium Vodka had a soft bead that flowed over my tongue and felt very smooth with very little bite.

Next up was Florida Cane’s best selling flavored vodka, Orlando Orange. Unlike other orange flavored vodkas, Florida Cane uses the orange peel instead of the juice. The finished product shows that some of the oils from the orange peel survive the distillation process and can be seen in the bottle if you shake it up. These oils also give the vodka a very smooth mouth feel when sipped.

I could smell the orange aroma from the sample cup while it sat on the bar. The flavor was excellent and natural tasting as I expected.

My Wife mentioned the flavor of the Orlando Orange vodka reminded her of a screwdriver cocktail without the orange juice.

After tasting my sample, I knew I would pick up a bottle because I wanted to try some in a modified version of my favorite whiskey cocktail, the Old Fashioned.

To finish off the evening, Pat mixed up a Florida Cane version of the Moscow Mule using Okeechobee Cherry vodka, lime juice and ginger beer. Once again the cherry flavor was pronounced and natural tasting.

While we were not able to take a tour of the 1,000 square foot distillery, we could see the column still and filtration equipment through a large window in the wall between the bar area and the distillery.

My Wife and I had a great time and would do this again, maybe when the Sunshine Moonshine products are released.

The Florida Cane Distillery can be found online and also on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook.

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