Alex Voss’ deeply held dream was to be a Mad Man – a Madison Avenue advertising executive patterned after the hard-drinking, chain-smoking characters in “Mad Men,” a wildly successful TV
series that won 16 Emmys and five Golden Globes.
“I guess I’m kind of a Mad Man for this rum company,” says Voss, owner of the Punta Gorda-based Alligator Bay Distillers, “but I never made it to Madison Avenue. Which isn’t to say that I won’t one day. It’s not my end game right now, but who knows?”
For now, he is delighted to run the first and only distillery in Charlotte County, along with mother Margarita, the president, and brother Ben, brand ambassador and apprentice. Voss has ridden the wave of popularity, starting his business in 2014 when there were only eight distilleries in Florida and now finding it among almost 50.
He treasures the freedom of being his own boss, but his satisfaction goes much deeper than that.
“I enjoy the creativity used to improve both flavor and quality of production,” he says. “We can change a small step within the line of production and create a totally different flavor profile. Some changes are planned, but some happen by mistake. I believe the mistakes are the best discoveries.”
After graduating from FGCU in 2008 with a marketing degree, Voss went through the portfolio program at the Miami Ad School, finishing at its San Francisco campus. He stayed in the Bay Area to work in PR for a small cellphone app development company.
After he was laid off, he threw caution to the wind and moved to Maui to work on a five-month construction project. When that ended, he was scouring Craigslist when he found an apprenticeship with Haleakalā Distillers. His two-year stint there taught him all he needed to know about producing a rum using Maui molasses: starting the fermentation process, overseeing stills and proofing and mixing the secret recipes.
When he was home on vacation in 2013, his mom mentioned Cape Coral-based Wicked Dolphin Rum Distillery and suggested he investigate what they were doing in Florida. He began to crystallize in his mind the idea of starting his own distillery.
He started looking for property in Lee and Collier counties, but found nothing in his price range, so he headed north to Punta Gorda. Financed entirely by an inheritance from his father, who died in a 2003 motorcycle accident in Naples, he bought a one-acre spread with a 3,000-square-foot building formerly used to manufacture boat lift covers. Production began in April 2016, using 100 percent Florida molasses sourced at the Clewiston sugar mill.
Alligator Bay’s annual production is 7,000 bottles of rum in five flavors, with a base price of $20 for white. The motto: “Cane to Bottle.”
“It’s a little scary, but also liberating because I don’t have a bank loan, so I don’t have a bank hounding me for payment,” he says. “I never pulled in an investor. There are only three chefs in the kitchen, I guess. I’m going to keep it as long as I can. If an investor does come through in the mold of ‘Shark Tank,’ why not? But I’d be giving away this liberty that I enjoy.”