Launched in 2012, Wicked Dolphin Distillery is the first legal distillery in Cape Coral, Florida, since the prohibition era. JoAnn Elardo, Founder and CEO, began developing her unique rum after searching for a liquor with pure and natural ingredients.
“I was relaxing in my backyard, reading financial statements on the sugar industry in Florida and sipping on a mainstream cocktail,” Elardo said. “I realized the drink was too processed, artificial and unnatural for my taste. I thought I could make a better tasting rum. So, I started exploring
techniques to craft rum incorporating regional, natural ingredients found in Florida.”
The result: award-winning Wicked Dolphin rum.
Realizing over 100 million tourists visit the Sunshine State each year, Wicked Dolphin Distillery envisioned an opportunity to create an exemplary, authentic, homegrown Floridian Rum. “When you visit the Bahamas, you drink a Bahama Mama,” Elardo said. “When you vacation in Florida, you should order a Wicked Dolphin.”
Today, Wicked Dolphin Distillery savors the distinction as one of the largest craft rum distilleries in Florida and No. 1 craft rum distillery in the United States according to USA Today. Each year, the distillery’s unique appeal and charm attracts over 20,000 visitors and anticipates continued growth.
Over 50 percent of the sugarcane produced in the United States is grown in Florida. Located just 35 miles from rich and fertile sugarcane and produce fields in Cape Coral, Wicked Dolphin Distillery capitalizes on the close proximity to fresh ingredients. “We use 100 percent Florida sugar and source local ingredients to handcraft our ‘wicked’ rum,” Elardo said. “Ninety-eight percent of our rum contains premium natural ingredients harvested throughout Florida from the coconut to the honey to the oranges to the sugar.” Combined, buying homegrown ingredients increases viability, production, delivery and growth.
The rum is handcrafted and produced in small batches using an American copper pot still. Only the heart of the rum is used. The rum is distilled 10 times yielding the highest level of purity possible. “We throw away the head and tail cuts which are comparable to rubbing alcohol,” Elardo explained. “Mass distillers put the head and tail cuts back in the product; these parts can give you a hangover.” The rum is then aged in American White Oak bourbon barrels that held premium aged Kentucky bourbon for three to 14 years.
Wicked Dolphin Distillery’s entire process ensures maximum purity, optimum freshness and superlative taste.
Florida heat holds the secret in producing sensational rum. Natural heat accelerates the aging process by opening the pores of the barrel and releasing the spirit quicker. The finished rum establishes and incorporates a flavor of intense aging, taking about three weeks from beginning to end for this extraordinary process.
Employees and Guests Join the Action
Wicked Dolphin Distillery employs 14 to 16 full-time employees to fill, label and bottle the spirits. During peak seasons, approximately 30 part-time employees help throughout the distillery. “We encourage our employees to be creative, try different things and experiment,” Elardo said. “That is key.”
Additionally, Wicked Dolphin Distillery offers visitors the opportunity to come in and assist with the process. Visitors work right alongside with the distillers and staff to bottle, cork, label, cap, shrink, tag and box the award-winning rum. “The customers become our quality control and brand ambassadors,” Elardo said.
Per Florida State law, customers are allowed to purchase six bottles per brand of Wicked Dolphin Rum from the distillery annually. However, over 3,000 retail locations throughout Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Maryland and Washington, D.C., carry the products. “At the moment, we are focusing our efforts on these territories and regions,” Elardo said. “We partner with Republic National Distributors to deliver our brand to ABC, Publix, Total Wine, Winn Dixie, Costco and Sam’s Club.”
Local to International Recognition
The women-owned and family-run distillery earned a remarkable display of local, national and international awards for its rum. The rum is consistently recognized in several local competitions and festivals holding eight gold medals, dozens of silver medals and notable Craft Prize awards. In 2016, Wicked Dolphin Distillery was rated the “Best Craft Rum Distillery” in the United States by USA Today. Additionally, it won gold medals at the International Rum Competition in Madrid, Spain. “This is one of the highest awards a craft distiller can win,” Elardo said.