Southwest Florida is home to a treasure chest of pirate folklore. Take José Gaspar, for instance, better known as ‘Gasparilla’ – rumored to menace Tampa Bay in the late 18th century.
Sure, the Spanish swashbuckler Gasparilla may be the stuff of legend, but the award-winning spirits produced at pirate-themed Lakewood Ranch distillery, Loaded Cannon, are more than a myth — and they’re making waves on the national award scene.
Since opening its doors in 2017, Loaded Cannon has been named one of USA Today’s top ten new distilleries, and its strawberry and jalapeno flavored vodkas were recognized as the best flavored vodkas in North America.
Loaded Cannon also produces bourbon and whiskies, gin, limoncello and, of course, rum — many named after famed swashbucklers like Anne Bonny and Ben Margoza. The distillery is proud to be the first and only of its kind in Manatee County, and sources local “grain to glass” ingredients whenever possible – including Florida-grown corn, rye, rice, and molasses.
A friendly neighborhood hangout with a ‘high seas’ theme, trivia & food trucks
Pirates are best known for terrorizing the towns they invade, but the approach couldn’t be more different at Loaded Cannon. While the distillery leans heavily into the pirate theme (there’s even a PSA in the bathrooms advising: “don’t wipe with your hook hand”), founder Steve Milligan says Loaded Cannon’s first priority is to be a fun and welcoming neighbor.
“When people walk in the door it’s not just, ‘hey, how are you doing?'” Milligan says. “It’s a friendly ‘ahoy, matey, come aboard!’ — because we don’t just try to sell drinks, we sell experiences. I love nothing more than watching people taste our alcohol, and when I see that smile on their faces — it’s worth pretty much everything.”
Milligan, a retired chemical engineer, got his start in craft spirits as a hobby while working in a dry country in the Middle East. He took a trip to the local hardware store and bought the materials to DIY a homemade still — and his love for the craft was born and his thirst quenched.
Today, Loaded Cannon visitors can view the distillery’s top-notch (not to mention legally-operated) professional copper stills, named Anney (after Anne Bonny) and Mary Read from the windowed, nautical-themed tasting room.
A tasting tour offers the opportunity to meet Anney and Mary, as well as a chance to win a free bottle of spirits by playing along in a game of sip-and-learn trivia on the history of distilling. Loaded Cannon also partners with a number of local restaurants and food trucks, having a rotating selection of food accompanied by live music every Friday and Saturday night.
Supporting first responders is a top priority for Loaded Cannon Distillery
Although the pirates who inspire the distillery’s tongue-and-cheek swashbuckling theme lived their lives in defiance of the law, Milligan says Loaded Cannon is committed to supporting the folks he considers real-life community heroes: first responders. That includes law enforcement, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel.
First responders in every field get a free t-shirt when they visit Loaded Cannon. Milligan says that regardless of political affiliation, he wants first responders to know the distillery appreciates their service to the community. He hopes to pay it forward through these small gestures of support.
“We truly are one of the best-kept secrets in the area — an area that is supported by strong structural support of small business and customers that seek out local products,” Milligan says.
“Our mission is to make Loaded Cannon a product that the community is proud of and they ask for us by name in stores, bars, restaurants, and liquor stores. This area truly is unique, a diverse mixing pot of cultures. I love meeting people, and winning over patrons one at a time through engagement, respect, and a little humor. We support buying local and have deep respect for others that do as well. So when you’re out and about, remember to ask ‘do you carry the Cannon?'”
Recipes from “The Cannon”
Ready to enjoy some Loaded Cannon Cocktails? Steve shared three of his favorite Loaded Cannon cocktail recipes that are a snap to make at home with a bottle of the distillery’s award-winning vodka or gin. Try them yourself, or test out your own concoctions. Arr, matey — just don’t forget to share!
2 oz Jalapeno Vodka & 4 oz Pimento Ginger Tonic stirred over ice.
2 oz Orange Vodka, 3 oz Bajan Punch Ripe Juice, and a splash of soda water stirred over ice.
2 oz Gin, 1 & 1/2 oz of Ginger Rhubarb Shrub, 1 oz fresh squeezed lime juice, & 1 oz club soda stirred over ice.