Drinking It In

Clara Robbins Is Florida's First Female Master Distiller

“I never felt like my voice mattered much until I made it matter. I know my value now.”

By Megan McDonald June 25, 2024 Published in the July-August 2024 issue of Sarasota Magazine

Clara Robbins
Clara Robbins

Image: Alan Cresto

Whether you’re a casual cocktailer or a master mixologist, you need to know the name Clara Robbins. Robbins, 30, is a master distiller and the first female master distiller in Florida. She earned her stripes working at distilleries in Kentucky, where 95 percent of the world’s bourbon is made (think Wild Turkey, Bulleit, Woodford Reserve and Four Roses). Recruited by the first female distiller in Kentucky and drawing on her education as a chemical engineer, Robbins made bourbon and aged all the company’s brown spirits. A fast learner and hard worker, she was soon promoted to making all of the company’s gin and given the opportunity to go to gin school. “I became a gin specialist and began cranking out recipes,” she says.

But Robbins was put off by Kentucky’s winter weather. “I did not like the snow,” she says. “The second winter, we got snow in April, and I was like, ‘I can’t do this!’” Her family owned a condo on Siesta Key, so in December 2019 she decided to move to Sarasota after accepting a job offer from a distillery in St. Petersburg.

Eventually, she met the owners of Good Liquid Brewing. “They had always wanted to open a distillery and I had always wanted to have my own,” she says. She began working with Good Liquid in October 2022 and the distillery opened a year later. Robbins makes all the spirits in-house. “We wanted it to be a one-stop shop,” she says of the business plan. “You can get any spirit or any drink, like an old fashioned or a gin and tonic. We have bourbon, rye, vodka, gin, agave spirits, orange liqueur, white rum—everything is there.”

In addition to making our region’s spirits bright, Robbins is making an international name for herself with her gin, which won double gold at the New York International Spirits Competition in 2021, making her one of the top five gin distillers in the world. Her recipe has a tropical lean, with citrus, coconut and green cardamom in addition to gin’s traditional juniper and coriander. “A lot of people say they don’t like gin because it tastes like a Christmas tree,” Robbins says, “but this one can convert non-gin drinkers into gin drinkers.” If they still don’t like it? “Gin is not for them!” she says with a laugh.

Later this year, Robbins will also appear on Discovery’s Moonshiners: Master Distiller competition series. “I was cast last year, but the distillery wasn’t open yet and my [distilling] system wasn’t set up, so I couldn’t practice,”
she says. “We’re filming in the next two or three months.”

Robbins’ star is shining bright—but its rise wasn’t without a lot of challenges. “Now I feel strong and powerful in the industry, but when I first moved to Kentucky, men would say degrading things to me and think they could just have all their guy talk around me,” she says. “I got a crash course in how to handle those scenarios. You have to thicken up your skin. I was often the only woman in the room. While I welcome it now—I think, ‘I’m a badass, I’m the only woman in this room, how cool is that?’—it was uncomfortable at first.”

“I never felt like my voice mattered much until I made it matter,” she
continues. “I know my value now.”

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