WEEKI WACHEE — Deep in the woods of the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Management Area just north of Weeki Wachee, there are moonshine, rye whiskey and rum stills bubbling away. There are no worries about nosy revenuers, though, as the stills at NJoy Spirits Distillery are legal.
Stainless steel and old-school, hand-hammered copper stills have been producing small-batch, handmade spirits at the family operated business for a dozen years. Three years ago, the distillery opened to the public for visits and guided tours and tastings.
Three products are produced at NJoy: Wild Buck is advertised as a smooth, bold 100% American rye whiskey of 100 proof. Some of the rye is grown in a field on the 80 acres of the distillery grounds. Florida Mermaid Rum is a gold, 3-year-old Florida sugar cane sipping rum blended with a Caribbean pot still rum then aged in the Wild Buck whiskey barrels for an additional 90 days. It too, weighs in at 100 proof.
The third spirit isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s called Ryes in Shine, which is a rye moonshine straight from the still with no aging. It’s a stiff 150 proof. The spirits, made with filtered rain water, can be found at Publix, ABC Liquor, Total Wine & More, as well as some other outlets. They also can be purchased at the distillery on Saturdays and Sundays, the two days NJoy is open to the public.
The NJoy spirits have garnered several awards and some great reviews, and NJoy recently earned its 9th International Golf Medal. They are not inexpensive, at a retail price of $60 a bottle, but that’s the nature of handcrafted spirits, said Kevin Goff, head distiller, who with his wife, Natalie, owns and operates NJoy. Natalie said the price “scares” some people at first, but after a sip, they understand.
“After they get a taste, they’re happy to pay it,” she said, adding that in addition to the great care and craftsmanship in distilling and aging, another reason for the top-shelf price is the proof.
“The higher the proof, the higher the government tax,” Natalie said. “Jack Daniels is 80 proof and is taxed less than we are.”
There’s also a difference in the time and effort involved in spirits made at a certified farm distillery, something of a rarity in these days of mass production, said Natalie.
“Most of the big names buy from large manufacturers that produce for several companies,” said Natalie. “They make millions of gallons a year and (the brand) buys it and either ages it themselves or just bottles it and put their label on it.”
Visitors see that NJoy is as different from a factory distillery as possible the minute they arrive for one of the weekend tours.
It was a lot of work over several years, but the Goffs have built an idyllic little world in the woods. A number of rustic, wood cabins and out-buildings with tin roofs surround a fountain-aerated pond stocked with largemouth bass (catch-release only, according to the sign).
In addition to the distillery, which is housed in a former horse stable, there’s a gift shop, bottling room, tasting lanai overlooking the pond, a bar serving spirits, beer and wine, as well as sugar cane and rye fields that round out the farm vibe NJoy exudes. A wooden water wheel at the entrance to the distillery building turns lazily, as the Goffs’ black Lab-mix, Rummer, moves about from building to building to greet visitors as they arrive for the $8 tours.
Natalie said she and Kevin are happy, always busy and living their dream. They live on the property in a small cabin they intended as a temporary home built for a future caretaker, but decided they would stay.
“We were going to buy a big house in Glenn Lakes (a subdivision nearby) but after a while we decided this (the cabin) is all we need,” said Natalie.
So just how did a distillery come to be inside a state wildlife management area?
The Goffs bought the land 20 years ago, and it was “a real mess.” So much of a mess, Kevin said, that the state didn’t want it when buying up private land for the preserve.
The couple, seeing potential took it on, turning it into a farm with horses and cows. Natalie’s grandfather had been a distiller and one day Kevin wanted to give distilling a try. It took a few years to get a license, and Kevin hand-built NJoy’s first distilling equipment. The rest is history, and today NJoy is one of only a few small, privately owned farm distilleries in the country.