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Made in Florida

Nick Carbone does it all at his Tampa microdistillery, including gluing the 3-D labels on bottles.

On 40th Street in Tampa, just northeast of Ybor City, a microdistillery produces handmade vodka called Touch Vodka from Florida wildflower honey. Former investment banker Nick Carbone started the business just over a year ago. His first customers and test kitchen were in the legendary Bern's Steak House and its spinoff, SideBern's -- not a bad launching pad for a spirit that is now available statewide. A sole operator, Carbone takes pride in his roles as owner, master distiller, president and janitor. "I do everything" from coming up with the unique recipe for his vodka to individually gluing the 3-D red rose decals on the bottles.

Traditionally, vodka is made with either potatoes or grain, but Carbone set out to make his spirit from locally grown, fresh ingredients. With Florida one of the top producers of wildflower honey, it seemed a perfect fit. Carbone credits the purity of the Florida honey for his vodka's smooth taste and earthy bouquet. It's a very clean spirit, says Carbone: Since the bees have already refined the honey once, it's almost pure sugar, and no other compounds come out of the distilling process.

Carbone recommends drinking his vodka on the rocks or in a traditional vodka martini, but, he cautions, avoid it in a dirty martini as it doesn't pair well with the brine from the olive juice.

Touch Vodka retails for about $40 a bottle. Carbone makes about 2,500 to 3,000 bottles a month. Carried mostly by small, independent liquor stores, the brand was just picked up by Sweetbay, and ABC Wine & Spirits has expressed an interest. Outside the state, a Chicago distributor takes delivery of about 120 bottles a month.

"Ask anybody in the restaurant or bar business, and they'll tell you the market is saturated in the luxury and premium vodka market," says Carbone. "I see a huge potential for the artisan distiller with a boutique brand."