This Black-Owned Bourbon Spills Untold Florida History
Victor G. Harvey honors the story behind Fort Mose with Florida's first Black-owned bourbon brand.
Our nation's first Underground Railroad isn't exactly like the one Floridian's learned about on fourth-grade field trips. In fact, the first Underground Railroad didn't run north to the free states: It ran south. And it ran south to Florida. More than 120 years before the start of the Civil War, runaway slaves from the British Colonies in the Carolinas fled south to freedom in and around St. Augustine. The Spanish government, which controlled the area, provided asylum to Black escapees from slavery in exchange for conversion to Catholicism and service in the military for men.
By 1738, enough people completed the perilous journey that Fort Mose was established there as the first free Black community in what would become the United States. It's an extraordinary page from Florida's history that's mostly overlooked.
Until early 2022, spirit-maker Victor G. Harvey had never heard of Fort Mose, but he stumbled across the story while searching for inspiration for the whiskey he planned to release later that year: the first Black-owned bourbon brand in Florida.
Harvey knew immediately he had found a name that would honor both the Sunshine State and African Americans, and Fort Mosé 1738 Bourbon Whiskey was born.
Beyond paying homage to the past, Harvey's company, Victor George Spirits, wants to ensure that the Fort Mose History lives on in the future by donating one dollar for every bottle of his bourbon sold from now through June 19, 2023—Juneteenth—to the Fort Mose Historical Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to telling the fort's story and supporting the Fort Mose Historic State Park.
"Me and my team felt that giving back was a great way to help and provide resources that can be used to get that story out there," Harvey said.
Harvey moved to Davie in 1992 from Ohio, and despite being a Floridian for 30 years, regrets that his kids, who are grown now, were never taught about Fort Mose growing up.
"The fourth-grade field trip to St. Augustine every year... It was just, stay for three hours, and ride the bus back," he recalled.
Harvey hopes to raise more than a glass by increasing awareness for the site and other minority-owned whiskey companies in the state. To that end, he's teamed up with Palm Beach Distillery, the first female-owned and operated distillery in Florida, to produce this four-year aged bourbon. Founded in 2017 by Summer Piep, the distillery will serve as Fort Mosé 1738 Bourbon Whiskey's master distiller, crafting its unique blend of corn, rye and malted barley. With 75 percent corn in the mash, the spirit is sweet and smooth, perfect for mixing, cooking or enjoying neat.
The newly formed duo has plans for another product, a six-year aged rye whiskey titled Pullman Porters 1867, scheduled for release in October 2022. The porter draws its name from the Black employees, many formerly enslaved, who served white passengers on the Pullman Palace Car Company's luxury railroad sleeping cars in the years following the Civil War. The porters were highly regarded in the Black community. Their wages, while a pittance, were among the best for African Americans at the time, and despite the long hours, the position was vastly preferable to field work.
The best stories are often shared over a stiff drink, and Harvey hopes that his bourbon will tell one of its own. A story of resilience and courage: one that's little-known but worthy of a toast. buyfortmose.com