Like pieces of a puzzle, Loaded Cannon Distillery and Tasting Room is coming together at 3115 Lakewood Ranch Blvd., in the new Gatewood Corporate Center.
On Thursday, the 5,000-square-foot space was largely empty, awaiting delivery of a 500-gallon still, a seven-foot model of a fictitious pirate ship that will adorn one wall, furnishings and other equipment necessary to bring the business to life.
An nautical theme is envisioned for Loaded Cannon, with an all-copper bar, specially made lighting and wood recovered from a farm house.
Founder and president Steve Milligan, a Bradenton resident and retired chemical engineer, received his federal permit Oct. 30. He hopes to have the still in operation by January and to open Loaded Cannon Distillery to the public in March or April.
Initially, Loaded Cannon will produce vodka, gin, rum and whiskey, Milligan said. Customers will be able to sample the premium crafted distilled spirits up front. The distillery area will be visible through large glass windows. Tours will also be available.
Many of the ingredients that will be used in the distillery will be sourced from Florida, including corn from near Saint Augustine, molasses from Clewiston and flavors from Florida Worldwide Citrus in Bradenton.
The tasting room will be just that — a tasting room, not a bar. Customers will be able to buy as many as six bottles of the same label spirit a year. Liquor distributors will be able to buy all they can merchandise.
Milligan hopes that distributors and the public will give his spirits a chance and try them.
Milligan, while working for Dow Chemical in Saudi Arabia, began experimenting with crafting distilled spirits and developed an enthusiastic following among expatriates there.
Initially, Milligan made his spirits from grapes and mangoes, before moving on to rice, corn and then molasses, adjusting his recipe based on customer feedback.
“People were saying how good my stuff was,” Milligan said.
After retiring, he began looking at ways to turn his new passion into a business. He did not have to look far. Family members operate a distillery in Alabama and were able to provide resources and advice for the Lakewood Ranch startup.
The relationship facilitates training, sharing of ideas and product innovation. It also allows Milligan’s team to jump start the distillery within months, rather than years.
He then began searching for a location for his business and found the new Gatewood Corporate Center, developed by Harrod Properties of Tampa.
“We looked all over. We needed the extra height and thought this was the perfect location,” Milligan said.
Serendipitously, the landlord at Gatewood Corporate Center introduced Milligan to another tenant: Justin Hertz who owns Liquid Bottles. Instantly, Milligan had solved the problem of how to bottle his spirits.
Hertz, a Sarasota native, was so taken with Milligan’s plans that he signed on as a consulting partner.
“Our liquor will never touch anything but copper, stainless steel and glass,” Hertz said.
“It is Steve’s project. The rest of us are here to bring Steve’s vision to reality, to take it to market,” Hertz said.
Other members of the team include partner Mark Aniello, a marine biologist and owner of an environmental health and safety compliance company; Michele Russell, responsible for design, branding and the tasting room; and Lisa Lehnert, director of finance.
Loaded Cannon is launching its website at http://loadedcannondistillery.com/.