A Cape Coral distillery has created quite a following from individuals who enjoy savoring a rum created with all-Florida ingredients.
Wicked Dolphin Florida Spiced Rum owner JoAnn Elardo said, after traveling back and forth from New York to Florida, the idea of starting a distilling company took hold. Many of her friends always asked her to bring something back from Florida, which usually meant oranges or perhaps a key lime pie.
"We thought this was a perfect thing," she said of Wicked Dolphin Spiced Rum, which uses all Florida ingredients. Elardo said now people are returning home with rum, rather than just the proverbial citrus.
It took a long time to acquire the Cape Coral location and build a distilling facility. Cape Spirits, Inc. is at 131 SW 3rd Place, near the Kohl's plaza on Pine Island Road.
"We fired up the still in 2012," she said, adding that they came out with their first batch in July 2013. "We took some time, perfected it, made rum and put them into barrels."
A true family like atmosphere, the company employees 10 staff members.
"It's a family business, we want to keep it that way," Elardo said. "We want to keep that look of a family business."
Shortly after Elardo opened the business, she began looking into a Florida law that eliminated the opportunity to sell products from a distillery.
"When we started here a couple years ago, as we were cooking and making our rum, people were knocking on our doors asking for a tour," she said. "I said we had to do something about this."
A guild was formed after Elardo got in touch with an individual in St. Augustine to try to get a bill passed to allow sales at a distillery. That bill was Florida HB 347, which allows craft distilleries to sell to customers two bottles of spirits at the distillery.
"It's a start and it helps us generate some income to hire enough help to cover the tours," Elardo said. "It has worked well for us in helping market our Wicked Dolphin Rum."
Because of that bill, Elardo can now offer free tours at her Cape Coral facility, as well as set up tastings. A retail store is also offered on premises that sells everything from small barrels to glasses and apparel.
The hour-long tours and tastings are held every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, on the hour between 1 and 4 p.m. The tour takes individuals through the entire facility while showcasing how Elardo and her staff makes Wicked Dolphin Rum, from start to finish. The tour provides a glimpse into the barrel room to show individuals how they are made and what it looks like inside. The bottling line is also showcased during the tour.
Elardo said they have volunteers who come in and bottle the rum, which ranges from two to three times a month. The volunteers show interest by emailing the company.
"The first 20 people come in and they get a free bottle of what we have done that day," she said, adding that they have pizza on hand for the fun day of bottling and labeling.
Sometimes individuals have an opportunity to taste rum right out of the still during the tour.
"We started doing tours with maybe 30 a day," she said, adding that now they have about 100 people on each tour. "We get buses as far away as Boca Raton."
The rum is made from products solely from Florida. Since 50 percent of the sugar cane grown in the U.S. is grown right here in Florida, they are using local sugar cane farmers to make their product. They also use Florida oranges, various spices found in the Sunshine State and honey from Lehigh Acres.
"We have one of the best rums, national award-winning rums," Elardo said.
The first rum, Wicked Dolphin Silver Rum, which received a gold medal from the annual Miami Rum Festival and an award from the American Distillers Best in Category for white rum, is a premium silver spirit. Elardo said the white rum is made with 100 percent Florida sugar cane and distilled in small batches, barrel-aged to give the concoction a creamy vanilla flavor.
The second rum, Wicked Dolphin Spiced Rum, is referred to as "Wicked Coke." The spiced rum includes notes of Florida oranges and honey, with a warm vanilla undertone and a spicy finish.
"Aged rum is added to the blend for a smooth and mature taste," Elardo said.
The company goes beyond just a good-flavored concoction. The most detailed thoughts and considerations even went into the bottle design. It's narrow at the bottom so women can hold it with one hand, and the logo is embossed on the side, curved at the top for easy grabbing by bartenders.
The company plans on announcing another rum blend within the next month or so, she said.
If you can't make it on a tour for a while, individuals can purchase the spirites at Publix, ABC Liquors, Total Wine, some smaller package stores and most local bars and restaurants.
"We are in over 800 locations throughout Florida," Elardo said. "We are becoming known as Florida's rum because we are strictly using Florida ingredients."
She said becoming a part of the community has been the best part about opening the distillery in Cape Coral.
"We are having a lot of fun with the people of Cape Coral," Elardo said. "I love Cape Coral; that is why I am here."
For more information on Wicked Dolphin Rum or to schedule a tour, call 239-242-5244 or visit WickedDolphin.com.