Troy Roberts didn’t know the first thing about distilling spirits when he founded Siesta Key Rum in May 2007. He had just come into a financial windfall by selling a collection of sports car forum websites that he’d founded with a friend.
Roberts considered retiring. Briefly. “Theoretically, I could have,” he says. “I did well on the sale, but it was not the kind of money that would support the type of retirement I wanted. I like nice things, and I like traveling.”
He was 41 at the time. “Really, I was looking for something to do,” he adds.
Roberts liked baking, so he considered making rum cakes and selling them online. But he realized he’d have to think bigger. “I got interested in owning my own rum brand, and that sent me down a whole new rabbit hole,” he says. “My timing was good. The craft spirits movement was just getting started.”
Because Roberts had to learn distilling and the booze business from the ground up, he didn’t issue his first bottles of Siesta Key Rum until 2010. Since then, he and his team have built a brand that’s now available in 29 states and sells in “the hundreds of thousands” of bottles per year. The company makes and packages its product in a large warehouse in an industrial section of north Sarasota. Visitors can take tours and sample rums in the facility’s tasting room.
Siesta Key Rum offers four main flavors or, as they say, infusions. These are Silver, Coffee, Spiced and Toasted Coconut — plus an aged Distiller’s Reserve. Toasted Coconut is the best seller. That’s what the company uses for its Sarasota-centric Limited Edition Label series. It includes Midnight Pass, Bahi Hut and one that recognizes Siesta Key lifeguard and local celebrity, “Scooter of the Beach” (his real name is Scott Ruberg), who has manned his “Magical Green Lifeguard Tower” on Siesta Key Beach for 28 years.
The first batch of 2,000 bottles, which rolled out last year, sold out. The company recently released a second run of 2,000. For every Scooter bottle sold, Siesta Key Rum donates $1 to Sarasota Bay Watch, a grassroots environmental nonprofit.
“It’s magic,” says Scooter with his customary effervescence. “All I wanted was the green lifeguard tower on the label, and it came out full on Scooter of the Beach. I went crazy. It came out gangbusters.”
Roberts makes his rums from the finest ingredients available, and sources from Florida as much as he can. “Not knowing how to do it at the beginning turned out to be an advantage,” he says. Rather than adopting standard industry practices, he did his own research and made the best small-batch rums he knew how.
Case in point: Toasted Coconut. While mass-market coconut rums simply pour flavoring into the spirits, Siesta Key Rum’s product results from a far more exacting process. “Most coconut rums smell and kind of taste like suntan lotion,” Roberts says. “We get the coconut shredded and toasted and use a process I developed to essentially force our own silver rum over the coconut, extracting all the flavor out of it. We ended up with a product very different from anything out there.”
It’s safe to say that you won’t mistake Siesta Key Toasted Coconut Rum for something you want to rub on your shoulders.