Award-winning NJoy Spirits offers Craft Distillery Tours in the Woods of Weeki Wachee
NJoy Spirits is a boutique craft distiller of award-winning Wild Buck rye whiskey and Mermaid rum on Florida’s Nature Coast. The company is owned by Kevin and Natalie Goff and is located on Goff Ranch in Weeki Wachee, about 3 miles from the mermaids. They offer tours on weekends and by appointment and it’s a worthwhile trek.
Start by turning off US 19, just north of Centralia Road near the Hernando-Citrus county line, into the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Management area, a conservation and recreation area of over 34,000 acres. It is truly a wide open wild space that is more rugged than a park and has fewer amenities with limerock roads and trails running through it. First stop: donate $3 to keep this area wild at the ranger station!
Follow the map down Rattlesnake Camp Road. Turn left at South Road, meandering through some of the nicest sandhill and swampy forest ecosystems around the Nature Coast. Steve Brinkley, manager of the Chassahowitzka WMA, remarks, “I love to see the results of the work we do in managing this area. Each season shows different plants and wildlife.”
Chassahowitzka WMA History and Wildlife
A piece of this area, which was once a huge cypress forest was purchased by a logging company that crosscut the whole thing. There was a sawmill and town that built up around it. An historic marker is along US19 commemorating Centralia and those who lived and worked here during its heyday.
Today, if one stops in the hydric forest, cypress stumps of twenty feet in girth can be seen rotting back into the ecosystem as echoes of what was once there. A single ancient Cypress tree was left, probably because it was hollow. Its age is estimated in the 500 years range and it is very alive.
A small, isolated population of twenty to thirty Florida black bears survive in this area. The State is working diligently toward connecting these animals with other populations to keep them healthy and vibrant. The Florida Wildlife Corridor is doing their best to assist.
Creating a Craft Distillery in the Woods
In the midst of this peaceful scenario is NJoy Spirits, a former hunting camp that was privately owned on forty acres. “We purchased this land in 2002 because it was priced right. We knew we would have to remove quite a bit of debris that had been piled here over the years, but the amount was staggering,” Natalie and Kevin Goff recall.
To get to NJoy requires a turn onto Wild Buck Road, which the Goffs have had improved over the years. Living in the middle of a Wildlife Management Area is very peaceful, with nature as your neighbor. It also requires tenacity and hard work.
Electric service had to be upgraded to run the equipment. Fields tilled. Rye planted. Sugar cane planted.
Why a Distillery Business?
Natalie’s father came over from Scotland. In Scotland and Ireland her great-grandfather was a distiller – well maybe a bootlegger. The first time Mr. McCracken came out to the property, he proclaimed it as the perfect place for a distillery.
“The ATF must have thought so too, because on their first visit, they warned us that ‘we had better keep perfect records of sales or they were going to go through this place with a fine-toothed comb.’ I think it was just too remote for their comfort,” said Natalie while sharing some of the stories of their struggle to get started in the craft distillery business.
In 2007, Natalie’s father passed. As she and Kevin were cleaning out his attic, they found notes in books about her great-great-grandfather’s whiskey-making days during World War I.
“I showed it to Kevin and said, ‘This is a sign. We need to try and make whiskey,'” Natalie recalled.
They grow and chop their own sugarcane, grow their own rye, and capture rainwater which is filtered twice; things almost unheard of in today’s world of distilling.
“We won a San Francisco Gold with our first whiskey bottling in 2015. Since then, we have won two international gold medals for our Wild Buck whiskey and nine international medals for our Mermaid rum,” Natalie shares.
What goes into Making Award-Winning Whiskey
Water purity is very important. Rainwater is caught in huge barrels from the main distillery house. The Goffs use this natural rainwater to create their award-winning spirits.
The It is twice filtered and heated to 179 degrees. Rye grown on the ranch is added and it becomes mash, resembling oatmeal. The mash is then stirred for sixteen hours by hand!
The process is very time-consuming. “30% of our rye is grown right here on the ranch. The rest comes from Melton Seed in Brooksville. We age the whiskey in oak barrels for 18-24 months and use barrels of varying sizes. This makes a very smooth, consistent 100-proof whiskey,” Natalie explains.
The Goffs purchased another 40-acre parcel in the WMA to expand their ability to grow the sugar cane and rye needed to craft their spirits. They are able to produce about 20% of the sugar cane used to make their international award-winning Mermaid Rum now and plan to expand their fields as they can.
The Melton family has been instrumental in helping the Goffs farming operation.
Kevin designed and built their own equipment to get started. In 2017, they purchased more equipment to expand operations, producing more to meet market demands. They invested in a much larger grinder for the rye, adding vats, strippers, and finishing stills to increase their capacity to 500 gallons.
“People think there’s so much profit in distilling, but big profits are really in selling volume, which often requires cutting corners. Kevin and I are committed to crafting the finest whiskey and rum through historic methods, which means we work hard for each dollar made. We do it because we love it,” Natalie said.
The Newest Product: 100% farm grown Rye Grain Moonshine
The Goff’s recently added Ryes in Shine moonshine to their offerings. It’s rye grain moonshine, straight from the still – nothing added – and its 150 proof. It’s only available at the Ranch. They offer free tours of the property
Visiting NJoy Spirits Distillery
The place is charming, with a beautiful pond, sitting area and deck adjacent to the distillery house. A small “tasting room” is available, stocked with spirits and gift items such as etched glasses, t-shirts, branded barrels, barbecue rubs and spices and raw honey.
Honey is cultivated on the property also. A local beekeeper stores his hives in a separate area. He is teaching Natalie how to care for the buzzing, pollinating insects. “Bees are so fascinating. I learn more and more about their civilization and behaviors each month. I hope someday to be able to care for my own hives here,” she says.
“We see all kinds of wildlife out here, including the Chazz black bears, turkey, hogs, fox squirrel, and a myriad of birds,” Natalie shares. “I suppose at some point we will have bears and bees and have to do something about that. Meanwhile, we want to share the beauty of our area and the bounty of our distillery with those who would like to tour. Please give us a call to reserve a time to visit.”
The Ranch can be rented for weddings and events. In fact, Steve Brinkley, the Chassahowitzka WMA manager is going to be the first one to tie the knot at Goff Ranch and NJoy Spirits. He and his bride to be have become fast friends with the Goffs over the years as they work together to preserve and produce in the same space.
The law allows visitors to purchase 6 Bottles of each spirit per year directly from the distillery.
Gift shop is open on Saturday’s and Sunday’s 10:00-4:00 pm. Weekday tours and purchases can be arranged with prior notice. Please call the distillery at 352 592-9622 and leave a message. It is not a good idea to just drive out there and hope they are open. Make a reservation.
The Goffs are looking always for distribution outlets for their products. Currently Wild Buck Whiskey and Mermaid Rum are available for purchase at their location, and throughout Florida and Georgia. For a list of locations and information, click here.