Jacksonville continues to have a thriving, homegrown happy hour presence that expands with every passing year. Until now, most of the locally produced big kid beverages came in the form of hops and barley from our friends at Green Room, Bold City, Intuition and so on. But in Darwin-esque fashion, we find ourselves evolving into the spirit’s realm. Here are a couple up-and-coming craft liquor producers to keep an eye on.

Carve Vodka

By Ryan Emke | Contributor

As passionate as Jacksonville is when it comes to supporting local brands and businesses, it’s no surprise to see multiple craft vodka companies rise to the occasion in the same year. Carve Craft Vodka is produced at Grey Matter Distillery in Jacksonville and is making quite a name for itself these days, particularly within the Beaches community.

“When I moved to Jacksonville I took up surfing and fell in love with it. I loved everything about it and the Jacksonville Beach culture. I knew that I wanted to brand my vodka in a way to reflect Jax Beach and the surf culture,” said Carve Founder, Paul Grey.

“I started off making moonshine in my split-level house in Neptune Beach with dismal results. So, my partner sent me to train at a distillery in South Carolina so I could learn from industry professionals. The next step was to find a place to set up shop and get it approved from the city. This was actually more difficult than we thought it would be.

“After a year of getting our licenses, label approved and getting picked up by a distributor, here we are. I would like to be in a 10,000-square-foot facility with a storefront and room for us to grow in a year from now. I want to be either downtown, or close to the beaches. I really believe the sky’s the limit with this.”

Carve fits the bill of what many modern cocktail enthusiasts are seeking: small-batch, locally produced, quality-oriented and is perfectly marketed toward its target demographic. Along with a name that’s eternally engraved into surf culture, their success in the area resembles a local-libation manifest destiny. While a beautiful label goes a long way, Carve is also coconut carbon filtered, seven times distilled and gluten-frickin’-free. So, even you paleo eating Crossfitters can have a guilt-free vodka tonic!

Gunnar’s Vodka

By Ryan Emke | Contributor

Produced in Palm Coast, but based in Jacksonville Beach, Gunnar’s Vodka is having a bit of a “honeymoon phase” over the last few months. Owner/Operating Partner, Bill Kratsas, has tapped into a voraciously enthusiastic market, when it comes to taking pride in local products. Considering Gunnar’s was launched only two months ago and can already be found in over 50 restaurants and retailers in the area, it speaks volumes about the quality of the product and its connection with local businesses.

Named after Kratsas’ grandfather, a bit of a spirits producing renegade in his own time, Gunnar’s Vodka is made from 90 percent corn and 10 percent malted barley, all sourced from the Sunshine State. Gunnar’s uses only the heart of the distillate, meaning the middle portion of the vodka produced during the distillation process. This eliminates the “head” and the “tail” (the first and last segments of the process), leaving only the most pure, desirable portions of the product to be bottled and distributed. Gunnar’s is handmade and utilizes a dual-column still, perhaps the most traditional method for distilling spirits.

If you agree that the success of a company can be predicted by the determination and networking abilities of its leadership, coupled with a vibrant product based on quality craftsmanship, then Gunnar’s is certainly on the right track. Gunnar’s Vodka can be found at many bars in the Jacksonville area and is best served with equal parts soda water and a big juicy lime wedge!

Marlin and Barrel Distillery

By Charles White | Contributor

The Marlin and Barrel Distillery in Fernandina Beach is basically a one-man show. Founder, owner and day-to-day operations manager, Roger Morenc, opened the distillery in late March.

North Florida’s second distillery offers vodka and light rum as of right now with its very own amber rum coming in the next several months. Their premiere rum will ultimately come from a mixture of different barrels. Morenc will take a white wine barrel and fill it, letting it age for six months. Then he will take half out and put it into a whiskey barrel before finally finishing it in a port barrel.

“It’s great because it takes something from all the different types of barrels: different woods, different chars, different curing methods,” Morenc said. “It will also gain flavor from what was in there before.”

He knows that consistency is going to be the key to the success what he makes.

“That’s something in craft brewing. You made a good spirit, but can you do it with the same consistency every time?”

The rum still has more time to go, but the next two products he is putting out will be an Orangecello and a Limoncello. They will each sit on Florida sugarcane molasses and have fresh Florida citrus on top.

“It should fit Florida really well. If you can have a gin and tonic by the poolside you can have a cello and tonic,” said Morenc. “We’d love to eventually see it in beach bars or even resorts and try and go from there.”

Morenc first looked at craft beer when he left his job of over 20 years to start something new. He looked everywhere from Hilton Head, South Carolina to central Florida before eventually choosing Fernandina Beach, a place he thinks is a great small business community. He hopes craft liquor is something that is offered more and more.

“You go to a bar right now and get a choice between well and something premium,” he said. “What you should get over time is more choices in a bar. One made from corn, one made from molasses, because they all pair differently.”

St. Augustine Distillery

By Charles White | Contributor

Their gin won gold during an event in Texas earlier this year. Last year their vodka won a double gold medal during a domestic vodka tasting event.

After success with the vodka and gin while waiting on rum and bourbon, another new law has allowed the St. Augustine Distillery to sell more of their spirits to customers. The new law allows you to be able to buy two bottles of each type per year, instead of just two bottles a year. The distillery has unveiled Pot Distilled Vodka, Ice Plant Edition Vodka, Pot Distilled Gin, and Pot Distilled Vodka.

“Having people buy the product here,” said CFO Mike Diaz, “enables us to put more money back into the barrels.”

The whiskey, which may be the most anticipated, still has some time to go. However, the rum will be ready and available at the distillery September 3.

“We’re working on the rum recipe using a variety of syrups and sugar sources, such as cane sugar and molasses,” said Diaz.

They plan on doing four different experimental releases, called the discovery series. Starting in September, they will release 500 cases a month and release a different series every month before the final recipe will come out early next year. Their products are currently available in over 150 restaurants, ABC Liqueurs, Total Wine and Publix Liquors.

The distillery, which is located in what used to be the first ice plant in Florida, one that was founded in 1926, can be considered the oldest distillery in North Florida (even though it opened in early 2014).

“What we’re trying to do is make excellent spirits from as local as product as we can,” said Diaz. “Florida has great agriculture, so we ought to make great liquor.”

Their New World Gin won gold going up against more than 300 entries from over 200 different distilleries from across the country. They are hoping the rum, and eventually the whiskey, will follow the same path as the vodka and gin have.