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Distilling Success: A Conversation with David Cohen, President of the FCSA

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21/02/2024 Crafting Innovation: David Cohen's Vision for Craft Spirits in the Sunshine State.

In the bustling world of craft spirits, where tradition meets innovation, David Cohen has emerged as a prominent figure, donning the dual hat of President at the Florida Craft Spirits Association and Owner/Founder of Manifest Distilling in Jacksonville, Florida. With a rich history in hospitality spanning three generations, Cohen's journey intertwines entrepreneurship, community building, and a passion for crafting exceptional spirits. In this exclusive interview, we delve into Cohen's role as the President of the Florida Craft Spirits Association, explore the association's initiatives, and uncover the unique story behind Manifest Distilling.

As the President of the Florida Craft Spirits Association, can you share the association's mission and key initiatives in promoting the craft spirits industry in Florida?

Our mission is simply to create awareness of our industry to visitors and residents alike. More broadly, we monitor and remain at the forefront of key legislative issues within our state that affect our industry.

The Florida Distillery Trail, launched under your leadership, has gained significant traction. What inspired the creation of this trail, and how has it contributed to the visibility of craft distilleries in the state?

For the past 10-15 years, we've had a nice collection of Florida craft distillers. In the early days, everyone was figuring out how to co-exist and play nicely. I think the formation of the Florida Craft Spirits Association came at just the right time where we had enough active businesses and enough veterans to create a culture of inclusion and support.

Image Source (Florida Craft Spirits Association): The launch of the Florida Distillery Trail with FCSA members

The transition from paper passport maps to a mobile app for the Florida Distillery Trail marks a significant upgrade. How has this technological shift enhanced the experience for both distilleries and consumers?

It's a huge benefit for our association. Simply from the perspective of tracking metrics. Not everyone loves it because there will always be people who just prefer good old-fashioned tangible paper. However, I think in general, we've seen an increase in engagement. We have a rewards system and have seen more submissions for rewards than before the app.

The partnership with Spirits United signifies a collective effort to advocate for the distilled spirits industry. How has this collaboration influenced legislative issues and market growth for craft distillers in Florida?

Our alignment with Spirits United, ACSA, and ADI all goes towards our mission of creating awareness and affecting legislative change. As an industry, we face a lot of issues that can really only be tackled at the federal level. For that reason, we rely on the national associations to unify all our voices. Similarly, when a local-level policy needs to be brought into the light, they rely on us to help champion from within the state.

The collaboration with Rackhouse Whiskey Club on "Florida Bastard" seems like a distinctive project. What was the inspiration behind this limited edition whiskey blend, and how does it contribute to supporting the craft spirits industry?

To my knowledge, we know of no other state association that has done this. If so, please correct me! This project was ultimately a lot of fun and was in direct alignment with creating awareness. People love learning about the project and trying it. It was inspired by an early-day St George Distilling project called Breaking and Entering. We took it a step further by combining far more distillates and all of the proceeds go back to the association.

Image Source: Rackhouse Whiskey Club

Your involvement in the Craft Advisory Council reflects a commitment to the broader craft distilling community. How do you envision representing fellow craft distillers' positions on key policy issues, and what role does the council play in shaping the industry's future?

The Craft Advisory Council is an opportunity to just keep an eye on what's happening from a national advocacy level. Florida, being the third largest liquor market in the United States, gets a lot of attention. Both for the good and the bad. It makes change difficult to achieve because a select few people make a lot of money off this industry and don't want to upset the apple cart. As consumer demands shift, it's our responsibility to continue to push the market regulation to match reality. My presence on the board gives me a voice on these issues.

Manifest Distilling's Florida Botanical Gin is an intriguing addition to your lineup. Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind this certified organic gin and its unique connection to Florida's agricultural landscape?

Our first Gin, which was our second product ever released, is our flagship. It's a cocktail lover's gin. Big, effusive, and a mouthful! We wanted a second gin with a more delicate profile so we were inspired to create something with all Florida natively grown botanicals. Each of the botanicals in our recipe can be found growing in Florida. It's delicate, balanced and pretty.

Image Source: Manifest Distilling

Manifest Distilling's journey from field to glass emphasizes collaboration with local producers. How does this commitment to using locally sourced ingredients contribute to the unique character of your spirits?

The beauty of craft distillation is in our agility. The ability to switch gears, feature new product, and change up our methods. Since we are a certified organic distillery that cements our commitment to utilizing only the highest standards in our ingredient selections. I'm not here to make the argument that that makes a better product, but it does support the future of our planet and sustainable agriculture as a whole.

With Manifest Distilling venturing into the canned cocktail market, how do you see this trend shaping the craft spirits landscape, and what prompted this strategic move?

For Manifest, this move allowed us to offer a lower-ABV portable cocktail. It appears that the market is contracting but we did a good job of not growing too quickly and oversaturating the market. We can service the market we are in and provide a high-end luxury offering to most of the pedestrian options on the shelf. In the long run, I think they will be another trend in the industry and the market will plateau leading to a contraction of most of the brands. It also probably pushes most smaller brands, like our own, to stay regional if not local. However, that trend, drinking local, is here to stay.

Image: Winning brands from the Florida Craft Spirits Association at the Bartender Spirits Awards, (L-R) Big Storm Distillery Silver RumPapa's Pilar Rum - Papa's Pilar Dark RumLoaded Cannon Straight Bourbon Whiskey30A Distilling Co Citrus Rosemary GinOceanside Distillers - Steinmetz Day of The Dead RumPreez Distillery Preez VodkaGamblers Bay Distillery - Battleship 57 Navy Strength Spiced Rum


In the world of craft spirits, David Cohen stands as a prominent voice, spearheading initiatives that not only elevate Manifest Distilling but also foster a thriving community of craft distillers across Florida. Through the lens of his presidency at the Florida Craft Spirits Association, Cohen's commitment to advocacy, innovation, and collaboration shines bright, painting a promising picture for the future of craft spirits in the Sunshine State and beyond.

Header Image Source: Manifest Distilling

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