American Freedom Distillery visit
Earlier this month, I visited the American Freedom Distillery in St. Petersburg, Florida's bustling Warehouse Arts district. A group of retired Green Berets, including veterans of the initial invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 (see, "Horse Soldiers" by Doug Stanton or "12 Strong"), launched the distillery last year after an inspiring post-retirement trip to Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Tetons and the Grand Teton Distillery.
To prepare for the whiskey-making aspects of their new venture, several members of the team traveled to the Wolfburn Distillery in Thurso, Scotland to train. A few months later, they visited Ireland to dabble with the oldest working still in the country at Kilbeggan. Later, they sailed from Florida to Cuba on an 84-foot sailboat to visit Havana Club and Legendario and to promote their Rekker (Norse for "warrior") rum.
Meanwhile, the team in St. Pete was working with a Columbus, Ohio distillery (Middle West Spirits perhaps?) to get bourbon into bottles and onto shelves. The guys sourced some really high quality 8 year-old product and labeled it appropriately as "Horse Soldier" bourbon. Within a month, they sold what had been projected to last the entire year.
Back to my visit. The distillery is housed within an old warehouse and is very much under renovation. Later this year, a majority of the space will be transformed into the 'America Neat Grill & Whiskey House,' which will feature a beautiful tasting room, gift shop, and private space for events. The distillery and restaurant will be co-located but separate so as to comply with Florida's antiquated tasting law (see Florida Statutes Section 565.17)...manufacturers cannot offer their spirits for sale, but "vendors and distributors" can. Meredith Koko, the daughter of distillery co-owner John Koko, relocated from New York to manage the restaurant.
Horse Soldier bourbon features a wheated mash bill and is available in 95 proof ($60) and 113 proof ($80). The glass bottles are forged in molds cast from World Trade Center steel...that alone is worth the money to me. Also, the distillery donates a portion of the bourbon proceeds to support the "America's Response" monument at Ground Zero.
Tasting notes and more information available here. Cheers to a great business...and to freedom, of course.