When husband-wife duo Thomas and Renate List left the restaurant industry in 2015, their next venture was obvious to them: to create a craft distillery. By combining Renate’s family heritage and recipes—her family created spirits brands in Austria, and she learned the art of distilling from her uncle—and adding a local touch from Southwest Florida-sourced ingredients, the entrepreneurial couple debuted List Distillery in Fort Myers and launched Mr. Tom’s Spirits.
While the business has grown from producing around 20,000 bottles to 1 million a year, the distillery hasn’t lost its boutique feel. Three to four new products are launched annually, including seasonal spirits like pumpkin latte liqueur and butterscotch bourbon. “Renate had the knowledge [for distilling], but we want to create nice local flavors, so we play around with different pairings when we cook,” says Thomas, who was born in Germany and raised in Leibnitz, Austria. “That’s how we get ideas for a lot of our flavors.”
The collection of vodka, whiskey, bourbon, rum and gin ranges from classic to more playful spirits, like Key lime pie rum and habanero-honey whiskey, made with locally sourced corn and orange blossom honey. The orange- and grapefruit-flavored vodkas (odes to Florida’s mainstay fruits) are light and smooth and perfect to incorporate into a martini, while the rose pepper-honey gin, which uses fresh Florida honey, is barrel-aged for six months for a subtle, oaky aroma that adds complexity. “We try and do everything in small batches with natural flavors,” Thomas says, adding that he traveled around the world to learn how to distill and blend. “We want to make clear, crisp spirits that are high-end.”
Keeping the business in the family, the couple enlisted their 23-year-old son as COO. The rest of the team largely comprises other young guns. “They’re very creative, and this is where the spirit [of the company] comes from,” Thomas says. “They bring good ideas to the table, and we try and make it happen.”
Some ideas may be off-the-wall flavors like peanut butter-banana cream liqueur, while others may be more design-driven, with wooden cork-topped glass bottles serving as a blank canvas for personalization. While a bottle of wine or artisanal spirit makes for a great host or hostess gift, Mr. Tom’s plays on this classic concept with customized engraving that takes as little as one to three days, depending on whether you have a design in mind or want the team to create one for you.
If you desire a gift of more than a single bottle, you can create your own brand. Working alongside Thomas and Renate, dive into the process as a master distiller of sorts to design a custom blend. “We’ve built the distillery from scratch; coming here is like a little Disneyland for people who are into this,” Thomas says. “We handcraft everything and put a lot of love into our products. We’re proud of what we’re doing.”