A Umatilla Smash

Originally published in the February 2013 issue of Lake & Sumter Style Magazine. Photo by Fred Lopez.

Saving the farm meant a leap of faith and lots of love and commitment for a Umatilla couple when they created Florida’s only microdistillery for whiskey.

Marti and Dick Waters were just teenagers when they married on a cold February day and agreed that life would be an adventure. Forty-four years later, they are indeed enjoying their journey as founders and owners of Florida Farm Distillery, one of Florida’s newest agribusinesses and the only one that legally produces bourbon-style whiskey.

In 2008, the Waters were looking for a way to make their cattle farm near Umatilla self-sustaining. Marti read a newspaper article about Midwestern farmers who were cashing in on the national demand for high-end spirits by opening microdistilleries.

“Dick laughed when I called him at work to tell him that I had found the business for him,” she says. “He agreed that it was worth a try and opening Florida Farm Distillery has been a great adventure ever since.”

The couple researched how to make whiskey and started the arduous process of getting state and federal permits and licenses. They tested many recipes before hitting upon a mash combination of Florida corn, barley, malt, rye, toasted flake rye, and sugar. They began with two small eight-gallon stills, and by early 2009, their first limited release of Palm Ridge Reserve Whiskey hit the local markets. Since then, they have added a sixty-gallon still and have worked with a distributor that has gotten them into Florida’s larger markets. Palm Ridge Reserve has been featured in Southern Living and is served in some of Florida’s most prestigious restaurants, including Ocala’s Cuvee Wine & Bistro and Winter Park’s The Ravenous Pig, which features the “Umatilla Smash” cocktail made with Palm Ridge.

The Waters produce 6,000 bottles annually of the 90-proof young whiskey but pride themselves on remaining a mom-and-pop operation. They believe their personal attention to detail is what makes their whiskey stand out from the mass-produced ones.

“I taste each batch and make the cuts when it goes through the vaporization process,” explains Dick. “If I like it, I keep it.”

He describes Palm Ridge Reserve as a traditional whiskey with an intense flavor where you can still taste some of the grain. The whiskey is also non-chill filtered, which gives it more taste than mass-produced whiskeys that are often filtered through chillers. Enhancing the Florida aspect of the whiskey was also important to the couple. They place a few toasted orangewood chips from their property into small charred oak barrels, and the liquid is then aged for ten to twelve months. The flavor of the finished product is quite smooth compared to many mass-produced brands.

If reviews from professional tasters are any indication, the mash combination and processes are working. Reviewers have been wowed by the boutique libation, as well as amazed that Floridians can produce such an outstanding whiskey in just three years. Chris Fairchild, a reviewer for the blog Taste Tampa, called Palm Ridge Reserve a “hand-made gem worthy of serious attention,” while Stephen Brown of Palm Beach Illustrated described it as “some of the finest whiskey I have ever tasted, small batch or not.”

Nevertheless, Dick humbly says people’s palates are different and some will always prefer well-known brands but that’s okay. “Just as with wine drinkers, everyone likes something different,” he says and smiles.

The things that remain the same for Dick and Marti are their commitment to making a distinctive, quality product and following their dream to stay on their farm.

“We are always going to be small because our whiskey is handcrafted by just the two of us,” explains Dick. “We will never be a Jim Beam or Jack Daniels — and we don’t want to be.”

For more information visit Florida Farm Distillery at www.palmridgereserve.com



Three Florida orange wedges
Four or five fresh mint leaves
Splash of simple syrup
Two ounces Palm Ridge Reserve whiskey
Splash of soda water

Crush the oranges, mint, and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker with a muddler or the back of a spoon. Fill with ice, and add whiskey. Place lid on shaker, and shake to combine ingredients. Pour into a glass, and top with soda water.

Courtesy of Larry Foor from The Ravenous Pig | Photo by Marti Waters

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