Visitors to Lakewood Ranch's new distillery, Loaded Cannon, may feel as though they've been swept up in a high seas adventure. Which is exactly the sentiment founder Steve Milligan and his crew are hoping to evoke with their pirate-themed establishment. Milligan, who has a background in chemical engineering, has been interested in crafting fine alcohols since before he was old enough to drink them. Opening the Loaded Cannon, which is designed to embody a fictitious ship, is a way to share his passion.
Inspired by the Golden Age of Piracy and the area's rich nautical history, Loaded Cannon offers vodka, rum, gin, whiskey and other spirits named for notable marauders and pirate legends. “Anney's Blade” vodka pays homage to the indomitable Anne Bonny, while “Margoza's Gin” draws from the Suncoast's own rumored priest-turned-pirate Ben Margoza. Each alcohol is crafted in small batches, and 80 percent of the ingredients are sourced from Florida and finished with a “copper kiss.”
The tasting room, with its deep teal walls, cask decor and wooden accents, makes guests feel as though they are sipping cocktails dockside. Those who want to dive deeper can go on a full tour of the distillery and partake in a flight of six premium spirits. Loaded Cannon also offers a Public Libations Class during which attendees can learn the art and history of cocktail preparation while getting hands-on experience.
Loaded Cannon also gives back. Corn scraps and other byproducts are donated to nearby farms to help feed livestock, which serves the dual purpose of assisting farmers and creating less waste. The team also enjoys partnering with local businesses to encourage cross-promotions and stimulate the local economy. Who knew pirates could be such upstanding citizens?
First mate Michelle Russell—the distillery's social media maven, graphic designer and mixologist—says a trip to Loaded Cannon is a full experience. Not only do patrons have the opportunity to purchase artisanal spirits, but they can also learn about the art of distilling and become familiar with the maritime stories that shape our coasts. She wants people to "leave tipsy and entertained." Come aboard and discover your inner scallywag.