As they say, “you gotta risk it for the biscuit.” And Steve Milligan did just that, serving as a chemical engineer, hunkered down somewhere off the grid in territories like Kuwait, Korea and Saudi Arabia. “You know, when you're on assignment, stuck living in a guarded compound in Saudi Arabia for three years, you've got a lot of time to read.” So between his chemical engineering knowledge and reading books from the library, Milligan started distilling liquor. To his surprise, he got pretty good at it. “Of course, it is very illegal over there,” he adds. “Very illegal.” But mutineer Milligan went for the gold regardless—sharing the challenging start of gathering the necessary supplies for building the apparatus. “If you go into the hardware store and buy all this stuff for the still, you know pretty soon, somebody is going to turn you into the police,” he says. “So, I had to go in one week to buy one piece of piping, another the next, and so on until I had everything I needed.” Milligan started out making wine, converted the wines into brandy, then graduated to vodka and whiskey. Was the self-trained hooch maker ever afraid of getting caught? “Oh yeah,” he says. “One of my most embarrassing stories was trying to make a mango wine, and the bubbler pot plugged up on me. I came home and it had exploded all over my bathroom.” Needless to say, the whole bathroom stained a funky orange hue, and stayed that way indefinitely under his discretion. Many years later, Milligan found himself retiring from VP of Operations at DOW Chemical Co. and moving to Bradenton, but fishing and golfing weren’t on his radar for retirement. After a string of unexpected family tragedies, and a need to feel purpose again in life, Milligan needed something to distract and drive him, as distilling did during his deployment. 

Enter, Loaded Cannon Distillery. The small-batch, independent distiller does just about everything. “We're very unusual because we have a silo in the back,” he says, “and that silo holds 45,000 pounds of corn.” The liquor-loving rebel mills all his own corn, rice, rye and wheat in said silo, and even makes his own molasses in a six thousand gallon tank that sits right in the middle of the facility. Whatever raw materials he can’t make, are sure to only come from Florida and never touch synthetics or plastics, only a larger-than-life copper still to ensure purity and clarity. “Many distilleries say their spirits are ‘hand-crafted’. We like to say ours are ‘copper-kissed.’” And instead of specializing in just one premier spirit, Loaded Cannon seeks treasure in them all. “I think doing all the spirits keeps you sharp,” he says. “There would be nothing more dull to me than sitting down and only making rum every day.” 

Far from dull, the botanical gin gets finished off in a hibiscus bath and tinted with a hint of citrus for some “sun coast warmth.” Labeled Ben Margoza, a British priest turned Florida pirate, whose one rule was no killing on holy days (fine any other time), consumers will notice quickly, Loaded Cannon cheekily names all its bottled creations after legendary bootleggers. From the crisp vodka named after the ferocious female pirate Anne Bonny, famous throughout Caribbean waters, to its buttery smooth bourbons and whiskey line, dubbed Carlota’s Revenge, to honor the beautiful damsel kidnapped on the Gulf coast by vicious pirate Miguel Pascal. Grief-stricken and full of revenge, Carlota sank Miguel’s ship taking her own life. Her ghost is said to still play the harp along the Manatee River. And in true buccaneer spirit, Loaded Cannon crafted a whole collection of rums called PYRACY—celebrating the scurvy dogs that ruled the heavy seas with a unique aging process and a special yeast suited both for blending or sipping. With the perfect balance of dark sugar and molasses, PYRACY rum flavors consist of white, dark, spiced, toasted coconut, vanilla and butterscotch, after being aged in recycled Buffalo Trace wood barrels. 

All Loaded Cannon spirits, including seasonal and limited run products, are available for flight tastings and bottle purchases in the Tasting Room—designed to feel like the inside of a pirate ship. An assortment of home bar supplies, branded merchandise, bloody mary mixes and cocktail recipe books are also available for purchase, once your tour by Milligan is through, sharing the details of his craft and commitment to the quality of small production distillation. Without having to walk the plank, he will take you behind the scenes through Loaded Cannon’s efficient production area, fermentation and bottling areas. “I give a very passionate, very heart-wrenching tour. I'm gushing with pride when I'm telling it,” he says. “It's like my candy shop.”

3115 Lakewood Ranch Blvd. Ste. 110, Bradenton, 941-900-1482,