One of the perks of this job is that I get to play favorites. I’m exercising this prerogative this week by extolling you to support with your money and love what is far and away my favorite One Spark project — not the most important or inventive project, mind you, or something that will revolutionize the city or change the world. Simply my favorite: Burlock & Barrel Distilleries. (That’s Project No. 20915. Hint.)
Ian Haensly and Colin Edwards want to build a craft whiskey distillery in Jacksonville, and I think we should all pitch in and help them. Not just because, when it comes to libations, I’m partial to whiskey, though I am, or because I believe this town could use a little more libertinism, though I do. But also because they’re trying to build a craft distillery that draws on locally sourced ingredients, while connecting the First Coast to its boozy heritage. (The colloquialism “The Real McCoy” may come from William Frederick McCoy, a Jacksonville yacht-builder turned “gentleman smuggler” — meaning he never cozied up to organized crime or sold drink cut with chemicals — during Prohibition. McCoy is said to have invented the burlock, a contraption that held bottles wrapped tightly in straw and burlap — hence the distillery’s name.)
The $25,000 they’re hoping to get from One Spark is only the beginning, a way to help them secure the facilities and equipment they need. The real issues are of the bureaucratic variety. “Florida is the worst,” Haensly says.
For starters, there’s the annual licensing fee (about $4,000, considerably more than the $100 Oregon charges), not to mention a regulatory scheme that was only recently dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century: It took a herculean lobbying effort for craft distillers to convince the state last year to finally relax laws that forbid distilleries from selling directly to customers. As it is now, customers can purchase only two bottles per person per year. Before, the distilleries had to sell to wholesalers, which then sold the product to bars and liquor stores — the anachronistic and much-hated three-tier system.
They’ll also have to navigate federal licensing hoops — they can apply for a license, a process that takes months, only after proving that they have a fully functional operation — and work something out regarding taxes and rules with the city of Jacksonville, which has never dealt with this sort of thing before. (Burlock & Barrel would be the city’s first craft distillery, after all.) With all licenses secure, they’ll need about $60,000 to operate for a year; even using small barrels to mature the whiskey more quickly, they won’t have anything to sell for many months.
At first, they say, they’ll produce a clear, un-aged product — unbarreled, straight off the still, like a high-class hooch — called Naked White Whiskey. The bourbon will come later, aged (maybe) with orange chips or in barrels made from orange trees, some hint of something uniquely Floridian.
“That’s what we’re trying to do — promote Florida,” Edwards says.
In time, they envision a Florida Whiskey Trail, like the Kentucky Whiskey Trail, luring boozehounds from all over to sample from the state’s craft distilleries. I haven’t the slightest idea whether that’s even remotely plausible, but really, you get the sense that they’re doing this because they think it’d be fun — and I think they’re right.
Burlock & Barrel will be showcasing during One Spark at Fionn MacCool’s Irish Pub at The Jacksonville Landing.