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Cape Spirits Distills a “Wicked” Rum

Valerie Alker

A change in state law has turned a start-up rum distillery in Cape Coral into a retail destination.    Cape Spirits is using locally grown ingredients to produce its own unique varieties of rum.  

Rum has been exported from Caribbean countries for centuries.  That’s because the raw ingredient is sugarcane which flourishes there.

Sugarcane also flourishes in Florida and that, said  entrepreneur JoAnn Elardo, provided her with a flash of inspiration.   

I was having a cocktail on the lanai and it was a terrible, terrible, terrible rum, and I looked at it and it was manufactured in Canada,” said Elardo.  “Fifty percent of the sugar in the U.S. is from Florida.  It didn’t make sense why we weren’t making rum.”

The Long Island native and recent transplant to Cape Coral sprang into action. The result is Cape Spirits which distills Wicked Dolphin Rum.

Elardo has hired about ten people to distill and blend her rum.   

Brown sugar from Florida cane is mixed with filtered water and then distilled and bottled.  Five hundred  gallons of sugar water or “wash” produces about 120 gallons of 80-proof rum.   Then it’s aged in oak barrels.

When the operation started up a year and a half ago the rum  could only be sold through a distributor. But that changed July 1st due to Elardo’s, and other members of the Florida Distillers Guild, lobbying efforts for House Bill 347.  Elardo said the measure had very strong support from area lawmakers including State Reps Dane Eagle, R-Cape Coral and Heather Fitzenhagen, R- Ft. Myers and State Sen. Lizbeth Benaquisto, R-Naples.  

She said the new state law allowing distillers to sell their product directly to consumers, on site, comes with a set of stringent regulations.

“The record keeping is very precise” Elardo said. 

She also said Cape Spirits is the first distiller in Florida to sell its product on site since the Volstead Act, better known as Prohibition, went into effect in 1920.

Elardo, who wouldn’t say how much she’s invested in the venture, said it’s doing well.   Its Wicked Dolphin light, or silver, rum has won a couple of national awards.   Its spiced rum is flavored with locally grown citrus and honey.   In a few years the distillery will be able to offer “golden” or “dark” rum.  First it needs to age.    

And she said she hopes to expand the operation.  But right now she’s happy to be able to provide residents and visitors with an alternative Florida inspired gift.  

“There were many years when I was travelling back and forth to from New York to our home in Florida and my sister would say please bring me something”, she said. “So I brought her oranges and grapefruit and the key lime pie and even some honey and then I was out.  So we’re finding a lot of people coming here and want the taste of Florida.” 

Cape Spirits provides free tours and tastings.  And, for sale in its retail store,bottles of Wicked Dolphin Rum.