The production of rum dates to the 17th century, when plantation slaves in the Caribbean realized that molasses could be fermented into alcohol. Since then, a tropical climate and the cultivation of sugar cane have been central to all the great rum-producing locales: Barbados, Guadeloupe, Jamaica, Martinique and Cape Coral.
The craft distilling industry in Florida is starting to come alive, thanks in large part to a bill passed by the legislature several years ago. HB 347 allowed microdistilleries to sell their products on site directly to consumers, rather than go through the traditional three-tier system (which mandates that the product must be sold through a distributor). There are now 15 members of the Florida Craft Distillers Guild.
Wicked Dolphin was founded in 2012 in Cape Coral, a master-planned community located across the Caloosahatchee River from Fort Myers and a short commute from the sugar cane fields. The operation is owned by Joane Elardo and run by her nephew, distiller Dan Termini. They use Clewiston sugar and local water, making the rum in South Florida’s largest copper pot still. The product has won numerous medals, including a Bronze in the 2014 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, a Silver from the American Distilling Institute in 2013, and three golds from various rum taste-offs.
It’s easy to see why. The Wicked Dolphin Silver ($24) is aged in once-used bourbon barrels. The nose offers aromas of sugar cane and toasty oak on the nose. In the mouth, the spirit is light, elegant and graceful, with an intriguing sweet and sour note. Although interesting enough to sip by itself, accompanied by the occasional ice cube, this would also make a fascinating Mojito: either traditional, or (as the website suggests) augmented by a sliced and muddled cucumber.
The distillery has added some aged rum to their signature product, the Wicked Dolphin Florida Spiced Rum ($28). They call it a “wicked Coke,” and in fact it is very far from the Captain Morgan of our errant youth. It has a medium amber color and a sexy nose that exudes scents of cinnamon, clove, and baking spices. On the palate, it resembles a liquid version of pumpkin pie, with interlocking flavors of honey, toffee, cinnamon and white pepper that combine on a long finish. It’s mixable enough to allow you to get into trouble with it, but you’ll make some outstanding cocktails before you reach the danger zone.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); his first novel, Friend of the Devil, is forthcoming from Black Opal Books in Spring 2016. For more information, go to amazon.com