As we travel the state for Florida Fun Travel we like to find so-called “hidden gems – and there’s one right over in Lakewood Ranch. “We’re the best kept secret in Manatee County,” said Steve Milligan as we sat in the reception area of Loaded Cannon Distillery. In many cases he was right.
The facade of this wonderful little gem is rather non-descript. It’s simply part of the sprawling Gatewood Corporate Center on Lakewood Ranch Drive. They’re right next to a pool company – and save for the banner outside they look pretty much the same.
Touring of Facility
But when you walk through the front door everything changes. You are hit with a stylish reception area and bar. The aged barrels with logo inscribed tops are there for folks who want to sit and try the myriad of different versions of vodka, gin, rum, moonshine and bourbon.
Our suggestion is to take the tour of the facility before trying the product. Milligan, a retired Dow Chemical engineer, has gone to no small amount of time, money and effort to make certain that each and every one of his products is the finest that comes out of a Loaded Cannon tap.
In the walk through his facility, Milligan takes you through the process, showing off the gleaming stainless steel tanks, fermenters and other equipment that combine to make his different products. Out back is a huge corn silo and milling operation that begins the process that moves forward until it hits the 500 gallon Minnetonka still named “Annie.”
Annie is named after famed female pirate Anne Bonny. Her sister still, the Mary Read, sits off to the side.
Old Meets New
The entire operation at Loaded Cannon Distillery – although it is dedicated to 18th century pirates – is 21st century state-of-the-art. Milligan was quick to show off the Bluetooth technology that quickly told him what was going on inside the vats. The numbers registered on his phone in real-time.
During the tour, he asks pirate and alcohol-related trivia questions of the group. It’s a fun and informative trip through a fairly tight space. In fact, it is amazing that he can get as many products as he does out of his relatively small operation.
Better yet, the Loaded Cannon brand is about as Florida as you can get. Milligan says he tries to get as many of the ingredients as he can from sources around the Sunshine State. There’s molasses from Clewiston, corn from Jacksonville, and pure Florida water from Crystal Springs. The water also is run through an extensive three-phase filtering system.
In fact, Milligan showed us several “experiments” that he was running. Some of them were for himself and some were for clients. The goal still was the same – to improve the finished product.
Sampling Options at Loaded Cannon Distillery
It has been said the proof of the pudding is in the tasting. To that end, potential purchasers have the ability to sample any and all of the different products. Those who purchase a Loaded Cannon shot glass are entitled to a flite. That’s five free samples. You can pick your own or go with one of the pre-coordinated flites.
Loaded Cannon Distillery has a full flite of five samples (plus a couple of extras) and everything we had was wonderful. From mild to wild – it ran the gamut. From the smooth Margoza Aged Gin to the Butterscotch Rum, it was smooth and tasty. Steve slipped in some Annie’s Blade Jalapeño Vodka, which was enough to make anybody stand up and take notice.
Loaded Cannon made this year’s USA Today’s 10best Reader’s Choice list for the top craft distilleries in the country and it is easy to see why. From his pirate-themed bottles and decor to the wonderful array of liquors, Milligan has left nothing to chance. And he’s not done yet.
“We’re going to keep making them as long as people keep buying them.
And they do keep buying, there were several tours the Saturday afternoon we stopped in. There were a lot of happy customers leaving with bags of bottles and Loaded Cannon swag. In the end, we walked out with a couple of bags full of bottles and swag ourselves. You can be assured we will return – and after we share some of our bounty with our friends, we won’t be alone.
Photos from Florida Fun Travel