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Tom Anstead recalls his trip to Bermuda, which was originally known as the “Isle of Devils” by Spanish explorers for its treacherous weather. After losing his job in 2020 and deciding to start his own business, Anstead named his new Bonita Springs distillery after his vacation in paradise. 

“When I was thinking of a name, I realized that so many people come here from the north for their winter, and to them this is like a beach and island paradise,” Anstead said. “It’s the palm trees and warm weather and that’s how I felt on that vacation.” 

Devil’s Isle Distillery opened in July off Old 41 Road in downtown Bonita Springs. Anstead received inspiration for the business after working with a friend in Pennsylvania who owns a distillery and was drawn in by the positive atmosphere of the industry. He went on to take a distilling course at Moonshine University in Louisville, Kentucky, to become more knowledgeable in the craft. 

“It seemed like a fun way to spend my time. Distilling seemed fun. People are happy when they’re talking about it, coming and enjoying it,” Anstead said. “It’s a fun business to talk about and be a part of, and the people in the industry are super nice.”

Up until 2021, Florida distilleries were only allowed to sell their products and merchandise at their gift shops. Now, the law changed to where customers can enjoy mixed drinks from what’s produced at the distillery.  

Visitors to Devil’s Isle are able to sit either at a bar or in the lounge with couches to enjoy the vodka and bourbon drinks on the distillery’s menu. Customers are surrounded by a wall of glass to view all the equipment creating the alcohol, from the mash tun where the ingredients are initially added to a fermenter where the simple sugars and yeast sit for five days to the still where the alcohol is boiled and trapped in the chambers to be eventually poured. 

Devil’s Isle has a small team of three people, Anstead, another distiller and one bartender. Although it may seem like a lot of work for Anstead and his distiller to take on, he said it’s quite efficient. “A third person might help a little bit but after a while, then you’re stepping on each other,” he said. “It’s kind of like being a cook in the kitchen.”

Mixologist Kassie Hildreth has been at the distillery since the day it opened after being a bartender at a local restaurant. She loves having the free rein of creating the drinks she wants for her customers and working with Anstead to come up with new creative cocktails such as the bourbon-jalapeño Spicy Lady or the vodka-based Bonita Splash. 

“[Customers] love it, because there’s not a lot of distilleries around here, so it’s a different type of experience,” Hildreth said. 

Distilleries are hard to find in Southwest Florida, with none being in the Naples area and a few in northern Lee County. Anstead said he made a good choice when picking Bonita Springs for his business, and thinks it will continue to thrive in the future as he aims to start distilling gin and rum products. 

“Bonita is fantastic, and Bonita keeps getting better all the time. I think it’s just a business-friendly place,” Anstead said. “The people that live in Bonita are very appreciative of all the new businesses coming. They like local, they like Bonita and they want to stay in Bonita.” 

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