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Miami's Big Cypress Distillery Offers Customized Gin for Bars and Restaurants

Would a martini made with a bar's own limited-edition brand of gin be more appealing to you? It could be if each one was totally different from the other. Big Cypress Distillery (3995 SW 144th Ave., #207, Miami) is where Miami's drinking and dining establishments can go to create custom-made gins.

With more than 50 botanicals to chose from, bars and restaurants — or generally anyone in the hospitality industry —  can devise their own recipe to be distilled exclusively for them by Big Cypress. It's an idea from managing partners Danny Garo, Mark Graham, and Fernando Plata who, having little to no knowledge of gin distilling, began operations last January at a facility in unincorporated Southwest Miami-Dade. 

According to Plata, a gin recipe uses a "loose" formula of botanicals. Gin's main flavor characteristic must come from juniper, according to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, the federal agency that regulates the alcohol industry in the United States. Most gins incorporate juniper as the primary ingredient, with a secondary ingredient of coriander, followed by tertiary ingredients. It doesn't necessarily have to be made this way.

"There are federal guidelines for gin recipes," Plata says, "but ratios are workable and can be changed somewhat, not drastically."

The various combinations of botanicals can be mixed and matched to create a unique profile, Plata adds, so it's highly unlikely two recipes would come into conflict with each other. 

However, no two bars will have the same recipe, Plata says, because Big Cypress owns the recipe and distills it exclusively for them for as long they are customers. The distillery guarantees each bespoke gin is unique and will not be duplicated.

Once a company switches to a different recipe or discontinues with the distillery, Plata will make the recipe public. "We don't want to keep anything secret," he says. 

Plata adds that individuals — not only companies — can also get custom gin profiles at Big Cypress. 

Instead of using dried botanicals, Plata prefers to use fresh and locally grown herbs whenever possible. Not that there's anything wrong with dried ingredients, he says, but he wants customers to experience "the perfect gin."  Formulation of recipes won't be a quick "ten-minute process," Plata says, but will probably take a few trips. 

Although he's not an experienced distiller, Plata is going hard into the world of gins and welcomes as many independent opinions as possible. He invites anyone, booze expert or layperson, to his lab. The process, he says, is also about helping the public — and himself — understand the intricacies of botanical blends.

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"The main purpose here is to have the deepest understanding of gin to provide a very balanced, good amount of depth and complexity of the gin that we're looking for," he says. "Really what we want to do is invite gin nerds or anybody who wants to become a gin nerd to come distill with us." 

Plata hopes to attract anyone with extensive knowledge of herbs from the Sunshine State to help him identify which local flora he can add to his botanicals list. Will locals get to drink a gin distilled with only Florida-grown botanicals?

Other than exploring gins, he's interested in amaros, spiced rums, bitters, and even absinthe. 

Plata also plans to release his own brand, Magic City Gin. The release date is still unconfirmed, but with all of his experimentation, it's bound to be an interesting blend. "It's not your grandfather's gin," he says.

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