We had the good fortune of connecting with Barry and Lisa Butler and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Barry and Lisa, is your business focused on helping the community? If so, how?

Tarpon Springs Florida is a Greek town. It’s motto is “visit Greece without leaving Florida”. It is also one of three designated Bahamian communities in Florida. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, immigrants from both countries came to Tarpon Springs to harvest sponges and made the town the largest source of natural sponges in the world. A sponge blight and synthetic sponges seriously dented the natural sponge market in the mid 20th century, so the town turned to tourism. Tarpon Springs now welcomes over 1 million tourists to town each year.

The Tarpon Springs Distillery embraces this history. Our main distillery location is a converted sponge warehouse and our barrel aging house is a 130 year old church originally built by Bahamian spongers. We give tours and tastings to our visitors that include a discussion of the rich history of our community. We also make specific spirits to honor our past. The label on our award winning Papou’s® Ouzo tells the story of Stephen Katzaras, who opened his sponge business in our building in 1945, and the Greek sponge industry. Our Anclote® Conch Shell Rum label has the story of the Bahamians who came to Tarpon Springs and harvested sponges using long poles with hooks. Many of these men are buried in the historic Rose Cemetery, in graves marked only with a conch shell. We use these products to educate people, but also to give back to the community. We donate money from each bottle of ouzo sold to AHEPA, a local and national Greek philanthropic organization. We donate money from each bottle of rum to the Rose Cemetery Foundation.

We believe that honoring the past and our diverse culture helps people forget their differences and find common ground. Our world could use a lot more of that right now.

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?

A lot of distilleries pay consultants to develop their formulas, or they purchase alcohol from large contract distilleries to act as the base of their products. We don’t believe in that. Every drop of alcohol we sell is distilled in house from formulas we developed. Each of our spirits has a unique twist that separates it from the competition.

Every product concept starts with a flavor profile in mind. For instance, Claresso® started one Sunday morning when Barry was drinking a cup of Café Bustelo from our French press. Most people don’t look at a cup of coffee and think “hey, I bet I could run that through the still”, but that’s the way he thinks. The result was one of the few distilled coffee spirits in the world. The coffee oil binds with the alcohol and makes a clear, 90 proof spirit that tastes like a shot of espresso with a toffee finish.

Who thinks of putting a smoked fish in the gin basket? We do. Our Triple Jump lab gin is made from juniper, coriander, seaweed, black pepper, lemon zest and a smoked mullet. Barry got the idea after hearing about a gin made with oyster shells in Scotland. He thought “hey, if you can make gin from an oyster, why not a fish?” We make it every July and it sells like crazy.

This creativity leads to a lot of diversity in our product mix. We are pretty confident that we are the only craft distillery in the the world to win major international awards for ouzo, aquavit, moonshine, and rye whiskey. In addition to these spirits, we also make several gins, wheat whiskey, single malt whiskey, rum, Claresso and orange liqueur.

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?

We would start out at Toula’s Trailside Cafe in downtown Tarpon Springs. Lisa is a big fan of Toula’s banana bread french toast. After that, we would take a walk around the historic downtown area and visit the antique shops.

Next is an exploration of the historic Sponge Docks. Dodecanese Blvd. runs along the Anclote river and is lined with shops and restaurants. It’s all about the sponge, with sponge boats, sponge shops and a sponge museum. By the time you leave, you will be a sponge expert. The whole place has the feel of a Greek fishing village.

After we have explored for a couple of hours, we would take them on one of the boat cruises out to Anclote Island. The island is about a mile from the mouth of the river in the Gulf of Mexico. We would likely see dolphins on the way out and can look for shells on the beach of the island.

As the day wears on, we need some lunch. The Bayou Bistro on the river serves up an awesome Bahn Mi and has the best boiled shrimp in the area.

The afternoon calls for a little day drinking. Tarpon Springs boasts 6 breweries, and of course our place, the Tarpon Springs Distillery.

If you come to Tarpon Springs, Greek food is a must, so for dinner, we would go to Katarina’s Taverna. Dinner would definitely include octopus, a local specialty, and Katarina’s silky smooth tsatsiki and pita. And no Greek dinner is complete without saganaki, the flaming cheese. Opa!

Finally, it’s back to our house for a glass of Papou’s Ouzo on our deck, watching the sun set into the Gulf of Mexico.

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Almost everyone who has tried to open a distillery has horror stories about the local government. Whether it be planning and zoning, the fire marshall or the building department, these stories involve significant delays, outright denials and significant cost overruns. These obstacle make it virtually impossible to open a distillery in less than two years.

Our experience couldn’t be more different. From the beginning, our city officials embraced our business. They provided guidance, expedited reviews and monetary support. Karen Lemmons from the Economic Development Office has been a constant champion for the Tarpon Springs Distillery. Patricia McNeese in Planning and Zoning has supported our efforts as our business has evolved from a simple distillery into a music venue and major tourist draw.

All of this support helped us build and open our distillery in 21 months and has helped us grow. In 2022, we welcomed over 20,000 visitors to the distillery. In 2023, we expect to double that.

Website: www.tarponspringsdistillery.net

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tarponspringsdistillery/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TarponSpringsDistilleryFL

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_pnP10ehcA

Image Credits
Joy Davis Photography

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