I’ve been working at Total Wine & More for a few months now, and one of the perks of the job is free samples. Every weekend there are wine tastings, but every now and again we get lucky and a spirit is being poured. A few weeks ago, Mr. Tom’s Spirits were being sampled and I was blown away with the flavor. I had the chance to try a handful of their spirits, and was impressed by them all.
After trying everything, I asked the guy pouring where I could learn more. He handed me a card and said to contact Thomas List, the man behind List Distillery. They are located right here in Southwest Florida and we scheduled a time for me to visit. One night after work I headed to Fort Myers to see the distillery, interview Thomas, and to learn more about their operation. Needless to say, I was impressed with what I found.
From the outside, this building looks small… The size of a small tasting room, but nothing more. When I walked in, Thomas showed me around the distillery and I was blown away. The space is huge and I was impressed with how clean everything was. Based on what Thomas said, they have a small staff and are happy producing what they are producing. They have a wide range of spirits including gin, rum, vodka, whiskey… The list goes on.
After the tour, we sat at the bar and I got the chance to try a few more bottles. I love their Cinnamon Whiskey, Dark Rum, Ginger Lime Gin and their Herbal. Everything I had was smooth, tasted like a premium bottle, and didn’t leave a nasty aftertaste in my mouth.
Speaking of Herbal, it is their comp to Jägermeister. It’s not as good as Jäger, but nothing I’ve tried even comes close. I have a special place in my heart for Jägermeister. Anyway, everything I had was delicious and it was an honor meeting Thomas and his wife.
While I was there, I got the chance to interview Thomas.
I love the name. Why made you decide to use your last name to name the distillery?
I thought a short name is easier to understand and to remember, so Tom the short form from Thomas was born!
Tell me more about Mr. Tom’s Spirits. I had the chance to try a lot of them recently and was really impressed.
The philosophy behind Mr. Tom’s is very simple – Dynamic, Fresh and Clean – Healthy Liquor. We focus on organic ingredients, gluten free and low in calorie products.
You produce the world’s first and only 100% certified sugar free vodka. Tell me more about that specific spirit.
Sugar free is big right now everybody tries to life healthy, so that’s why we came up with the idea to produce a sugar free vodka also good for diabetics.We wanted something that you could drink and not have to worry about having to watch everything you drink. That way your fitness and workout isn’t for nothing.
Out of all the spirits you distill, what is your favorite?
I like them all. Every single one gives me a nice reason to wake up every morning
The Apple Pie Rum is silly good! You have a wide variety of rums in your portfolio. Is rum easier to make than vodka, gin, or whiskey?
They are all the same. It’s just what you make out of it and how you tread your product.
Are you working on any new products?
Constantly we work on new flavors, ideas and trends.
Who designs all of the labels?
It was me. I came up with the idea as a immigrant that in the 1920-30 the people came over from Europe to the states to live the dream and that’s how the people looked like at this time, and I thought as a legal alien I still work on this dream.
You have a variety of cocktail recipes on your website. Who is coming up with those concoctions?
No, my wife does every night at least a new creation of a cocktail and when she likes something she shares it with the world and with our customers. Only products which she likes are coming on our website.
List Distillery is USDA Certified Organic. Did you plan on that from the start, or did that come up over time? Also, what does that designation mean to you as a distillery?
Yes, for us it was a big theme.
Can people order drinks at the distillery? What about free samples?
Free samples, yes, but we are not allowed by law to serve any drinks or cocktails.
Bury Me Brewing is right across the street. Do you ever do anything with local brewing companies? I imagine a hop vodka or something in your future!
Since we started with bourbon and a lot of different aging processes, there will be for sure some new ideas and innovations coming with local breweries. Maybe we can make a nice schnaps with their mash for a nice combo beer and schnapps in the future.
Let’s say I want to get Mr. Tom’s behind the bar at Sydney’s Pub in Naples. What is that process like?
Call me. I will send my local boutique distribution to you. We do a tasting and see the reaction of your customers and then you order and we help you design a great cocktail menu just for your establishment!
Let’s say I just want to try Mr. Tom’s. Do you guys produce mini bottles?
Yes, we have three different ones, for traveling in plastic 50ml bottles, for collectors in 50ml glass bottles or nice 100ml gift bottles for every event. Wedding, birthday, Super Bowl party…
Can folks tour the distillery?
Yes, call us make a reservation we do tours every day between Monday – Friday 1:00 – 4:00 pm and Saturday 11:00 am to 3:00 pm. Tour cost is only $10 and includes free samples in our tasting room.
It’s key in beer and wine, but how important is water when distilling spirits?
This is the most important ingredient to make a top quality product.
Are other distilleries like Wicked Dolphin competition, or do you all get along and collaborate on projects together?
Not at all, as the more competition we have, the better I have to be. They are good, but I try to be different and at the end of the day the consumer will give you the answer! We try to get along with everybody and maybe we can make things better together!
Have you ever made a mistake while distilling? If so, what do you do with the product?
I would be lying if I said no, but of course, we do make mistakes. We try to do it in a small scale or small batch, this is also the fun part of distilling you only can learn it by doing and tasting not with theory. If it happens then we have to dump it and learning out of the mistakes.
After visiting the Distillery, I saw a lot of unique bottles. Where do the bottles come from, and how do you decide what bottle/bottle type/style to use for a new spirit?
I try to buy everything local, like my bottles, ingredients for the production and of course we develop a lot of new designs for our customers especially the private label customers.
What’s next for List Distilling?
Working on new innovative products, trying to teach my son the business, listening to my wife’s new ideas and creating great liquor, like we did in the past, and make a little stamp on the history map for our customers, because they are the ones who built it up with us!
In all of the interview I do, I always give the artist the last word. Go.
Here we go!
I really enjoyed my visit to List Distillery, and am pumped to have such a great distillery in my backyard. Bury Me Brewing is right across the street, too, so if you are ever in the area, you can kill two birds with one stone.
Thomas, thank you for showing me around the distillery and for sharing your story with me. It was great meeting you and I look forward to trying more Mr. Tom’s Spirits soon. Cheers!