Master distiller Jeff Louchheim gave up his career as a private investigator to open Key West Distilling. At his location in Old Town he concocts vodka, rum, whiskey and has set his sights on making gin, tequila and flavored vodka. A custom made Artisan Still stands tall in his production facility.

“There is no comparison to the taste of small batch craft distilling versus commercially made products. It is like comparing a craft beer to Budweiser,” said Louchheim. “Each of my rums and whiskies are produced in batches of 60 for very tight quality control.”

Upon entering Key West Distilling on Southard Street, the aroma of alcohol and fermenting sugar cane overwhelms the nostrils — in a good way. It is the smell of distilling or, as Louchheim calls it, “home cooking.” The first batches of vodka were produced in Key West in April. From there, he branched out into vodka.

“I import natural sugarcane from Costa Rica for the vodka and rum, but commercial companies usually use grain. The sugarcane ingredient is far superior — the taste is sweet at first and it goes down silky smooth,” he said.

The liquor is easily served on the rocks with no mixers needed to disguise the smell or taste of a cheaper liquor. Another important difference is that the craft liquor is less likely to cause a headache or hangover when consumed responsibly.

“It is also gluten free,” added Marketing Director Mike Ruetz.

The first rum to be barreled at Key West Distillery has recently finished aging in oak barrels that are charred on the inside. According to Louchheim, charring brings out flavor accents such as vanilla.

The company’s whiskey will finish curing in about 45 days. Louchheim said he collaborated with Bone Island Brewery’s Master Brewer Jim Brady to select the perfect malt barley for the base.

“Mash to cork, everything is done by hand. Customers know what they are buying,” Louchheim said.

The next spirit will be Key Lime vodka, or vodka distilled though macerated Key limes. (Key West Distilling does not use artificial flavoring.) After that, Louchheim says they will produce horseradish vodka made especially for Bloody Marys.

Key West Distilling is located at 524 Southard St. in Key West. It’s open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. Customers can try a taste and purchase bottles starting at about $30 each.

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