When you think of Florida, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Maybe it’s the sunshine, or the beautiful beaches, or maybe even the theme parks, but have you thought about the wineries, or craft breweries, or even craft distilleries? All three are gaining popularity and popping up across the state.
One of the newest distilleries in the state is Sugar Sand Distillery in Lake Placid. Billed as Florida’s only estate-grown sugar cane distillery, it opened its doors for tours and tastings on April 7th with big plans for its future.
A portable sign on Henscratch Road is out when Sugar Sand is open and directs you down a dirt driveway to the distillery. Don Davies and Jessica Giffin own Sugar Sand and have spent the last year preparing for this day – from planning and planting to mashing and bottling.
On opening day, the tasting room is buzzing with activity. Guests gather at the bar, listening to the descriptions of each of the drinks they are about to taste. Samples of rum, vodka, whiskey, and moonshine are poured into small plastic cups, and if you like what you’ve tasted, full-size bottles are available to purchase.
If you’ve ever wondered how alcohol is distilled, the Sugar Sand tour will answer your questions. Starting with the machinery, Don describes each step in the process, but is quick to point out the art is in making the mashes and not the machines.
A short walk away from the still is the sugar cane field. What sets this distillery apart from others is the sugar cane is grown on site. Unlike larger sugar cane growers who plant the cane 60 inches from center to allow room for the harvesting machinery, Sugar Sand has planted their cane 30 inches from center since it will be harvested by hand. This difference provides a higher yield of cane on the property. Don estimates that if all the rows were laid out end to end, there would be 15 miles of sugar cane.
The current sugar cane crop was planted in January and will not be ready until November 2018. Until then, the distillery relies on buying from cane growers south of Lake Okeechobee to supply what is needed to run the still.
Currently, Sugar Sand is open Thursday and Friday from 3:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m. and Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. The owners envision Sugar Sand as an all-day destination with live bands, food trucks, and seasonal events, along with the tastings and the tours.
If you’re looking for a day trip, put Sugar Sand Distillery on your list of places to go. It may be off the beaten path, but it’s worth the stop.