Friday, February 28, 2014

Drink Local: Palm Ridge Reserve Whiskey

I first tasted Palm Ridge Reserve whiskey on the Vinoy Verandah in St. Petersburg. Only the reputation of the Vinoy persuaded me that Florida whiskey might be worth sipping straight; I’ve tasted Florida wines that could have powered farm equipment and feared the same stinging effect from our state’s whiskey. 
The Vinoy, I assumed, would never embarrass itself with a low-end whiskey designed for college sophomores looking for a cheap buzz, so I opted to give the butterscotch-colored liquor a sip. 

I was right, and my love affair with Palm Ridge Reserve whiskey began. This is not a shooting whiskey or a mixed drink whiskey; it is a choice whiskey for the connoisseur who drinks for taste, not effect. If you’re drinking to get drunk, stick with the mass-produced cheap stuff, because this is not a shooting whiskey.
WHAT: Thought Florida was all oranges and beaches? Think again. In the middle of horse country, the Palm Ridge Reserve churns out small batches of whiskey. The blended whiskey contains local corn and the taste rivals the priciest sipping whiskeys.

WHY: Why not? Florida craft beer has taken the market by storm, so why not locally-produced craft whiskey? Recent changes to the law allow small-batch distilleries to offer tastings. A much-coveted tasting at Palm Ridge Reserve marries the aid-back Florida lifestyle with high society gentleman’s whiskey.

WHO: Dick and Marti bought a cozy sprawl of land by Ocala as their daughter grew more and more interested in horses. Just about the time they closed on the farm, Dick laughs, she got interested in boys instead. The land looks plenty big to me, but Dick and Marti explain it really isn’t large enough for a proper farm. When Marti read a trade article about farmers using some of their land to make whiskey they thought, “Well, why not?”

WHEN: Whiskey doesn’t take a vacation, and neither do Dick and Marti. Distilling whiskey into something non-lethal, keeping it from exploding, and crafting something that tastes like fiery velvet takes all their time, so until their distillery hits the big time, they’re on deck every day. Once a month, they do give tours, which end with a modest tasting. 

WHERE: Just outside Ocala, less than two hours from Pinellas.

BEST part: Well, clearly the whiskey’s pretty tasty, but the best thing is seeing small industry producing a product that outshines the mass-produced alcohols. 

WORST part: Local whiskey produced in small batches (so small Dick and Marti call them “micro batches”) doesn’t come cheap. You can buy the whiskey at Total Wine or at the tasting, but the price remains the same: $60 a bottle.  

FUN fact: You may think truly fine whiskey needs aging, but at the tasting Dick and Marti astound you with young whiskey that tastes every bit as smooth as the old stuff. Just for fun, they’ll let you taste the brand-new stuff, too. That whiskey? That whiskey could probably power farm equipment.

MAGIC Question: Free, but tours and tastings are limited, so please call to reserve your spot. E-mail them at; the next tour comes up March 1, and the tours do fill quickly. Learn more about Palm Ridge at

Contact Cathy Salustri at

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Finding Florida at Heritage Village

Today I spoke to a packed house at Heritage Village for the Speaking of History series. I talked mostly about US 98 and how much fun it is to eat your way through Florida's panhandle. If you missed the talk, trust me on this: it's the most fun you can have with your clothes on (although clothing is by no means necessary). I mean, if you like seafood. If you don't care for seafood, well, you're kind of up a creek there, but then, you do have some of the best beaches in the world to occupy you while everyone else starts shoveling in the oysters like the world's about to end.

I won't rehash the entire tour, but I have to say I was thrilled the St. Petersburg Tribune sent out a reporter to cover my talk. You can read the article here. Note to my Gulfport peeps: I really did tell the audience "Gulfport is it for me" so, yeah, you're stuck with me.

After I spoke, someone asked me if I had a web site and I directed them here. However, since I went under contract with the University Press of Florida for a book about my travels, I haven't posted here – largely because the bulk of what I have to say, I'm saying in print, and they asked that I not, in essence, compete with myself. Since I blog for free and, ostensibly, I will one day make money from writing the book, it seemed like a fair enough request.

However, if you're here because I directed you here at my talk, don't go away. You can do two things: one, follow me on Twitter @CathySalustri, because every time I post to my other blog (the non-exclusive-to-Florida blog), it automatically pushes a Tweet. Don't ask me how; I call it Inter-magic; two, you can keep this site bookmarked, because while I cannot keep including material that may appear in the as-of-yet-untitled book, I will be including new material, not the least of which is my slow-but-steady Detours & Diversions travel column that appears in print and online in everyone's favorite weekly paper, the Gabber Newspaper.

As soon as Pinellas County gets today's presentation online, I'll publish a link to it. And I'll get my latest travels, to one of the state's only (legal) whiskey distilleries, online this week. So, you know, come back. I'm nowhere near as witty as the Bloggess, and certainly not as popular, but I like to think that "whiskey distillery" and "clothing is by no means necessary" will at least pique the interest of the search engines. But, again, I don't know. It's all Inter-Magic.