Reigning Champ

Award-winning distiller/brewer making her presence felt


Stephanie Harper started in the local brewing scene eight years ago with a small home brew system and a big dream. Eight years later and she’s the genius behind Islamorada Beer Company’s most recognizable craft brews and an award-winning distiller. Islamorada Distillery’s barrel-aged rum and dark barrel-aged rums have already won bronze and gold in competition. The sudden fame comes as little surprise to those who know Harper well — she is as dedicated as she is brilliant. When Harper’s not busy brewing Islamorada’s namesake beer and rum, she can be found on the water, in the water, or hanging out at Marker 88 Restaurant.

What’s your favorite step in the distilling process? The tasting, of course! Just kidding. There are so many different things that go into it; the barreling process is always incredibly exciting, but training your palate to identify your cuts during a spirit run is definitely one of exciting parts of the job.

It didn’t take long for the distillery to put out award-winning rum. Why do you think your rum stood out in competition? We have a bit of a different take on our rums. The flavor profile is a little different because we are using brand new American white oak barrels that are used more often just for bourbons and whiskeys. It gives off a lot of unique flavors for a rum.

How did you get started brewing beer? Home brewing in college, mostly, and then I started working part time at a couple breweries in the area. Nothing crazy exciting except that I lost a few security deposits from boil-overs.

Which is more difficult — distilling or brewing? I wouldn’t necessarily say one is more difficult than the other; I would say that distilling is almost like taking the brewing side one step further. The fermentation is still there; you then just add it to the still and decide how you’re going to go about the remainder of the process.

Have any new liquors or flavors in the works? I’m working on a couple gin recipes! If you’re a gin drinker, keep an eye out! We have some really fun ideas for different botanicals!

What’s the secret to amazing rum? I think a big part of making good rum is caring about the product, aiming for consistency, but not being afraid to change things you want to change. It’s an art form of its own so it’s important to treat it as such.

You can switch bodies with one person for an entire day. Who is it, and what are your plans? I’m not 100 percent sure; I’d be kind of nervous getting into someone else’s head. Mine already has enough chaos. Maybe Nick Foles on the day of the Super Bowl, just so I could see Tom Brady’s face in person.

Who’s your best friend? I have a lot of favorite humans whom I love greatly, but my best friend is definitely my sister, Kelly, and my brother, Christopher. They’re just the most fun and adventurous people I know. I’m actually incredibly lucky to have such a great friend base down here, as well.

Have any hidden talents or secret abilities? I can touch my tongue to my nose! Ha, just kidding. I’m a pretty good swimmer and had my Olympic trial cut in the 200 breaststroke in college. I am also a pretty good cook! I love to cook and have fun in the kitchen.

Who’s your celebrity crush? Carson Wentz is definitely my current celebrity crush!! I’m a huge Eagles fan! Nick Foles killed it, but Carson Wentz is definitely the celeb crush!

What’s the perfect day at the sandbar? All of my friends, my work fam, my fam, my awesome boyfriend all just relaxing, drinking beers and enjoying life. No littering. And games! I have a competitive streak.

What’s your summer “anthem” this year? Anything T Swift … and I love Kenny Chesney’s new song, “Get Along.” Cliché, but who cares. I love all music.

Who inspires you? First of all, I love how much the owners of our company motivate and inspire me to constantly be the best I can be. Both of my parents and my grandparents have always been a huge inspiration to me. They’ve always been such hard workers and took great care of our family. I hope I can be half the people they are.

What’s your guilty pleasure? Dark chocolate with a bold cabernet … lots of cheese. I love cheese so much.

What’s your pet peeve? When people leave the grocery cart in the parking spot. You really can’t walk it across the parking lot to the cart holder? Really?

Have a nickname? You can ask my sister if you’re ever lucky enough to meet her. My mom used to call me Stevie because she named me after Stevie Nicks.

Who’s on your Florida Keys Mount Rushmore? Cypress, Bronco, Gypsy and Coral. They’re my dog crew.

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