Manifest Distilling: A modern take on moonshine

Manifest Distilling: A modern take on moonshine

What does making whiskey have in common with filming a documentary about Biggie Smalls? Both undertakings rely on seamless collaboration to succeed. Just ask Manifest Distillery co-founder and President David Cohen. Before he launched Manifest in 2016, his career on both sides of the camera included everything from appearing on Baywatch to producing the 2007 documentary “Notorious BIG: Bigger than Life.”

When the time came for a career transition, Florida’s hospitality industry came calling for Cohen. His Dutch grandfather, who escaped World War II and settled in Jacksonville because it reminded him of Rotterdam, operated a chain of liquor stores in Florida years ago. Cohen learned about the industry from his family as a child, and worked in fine dining during his early years in Los Angeles.

Also a craft liquor enthusiast, Cohen knew that creating a distillery in Florida’s expanding spirits industry would be his next adventure. His goal was to use lessons gleaned from the film industry as the anchor for a new kind of distillery.

“Filmmaking is highly collaborative. I was used to working in a very collaborative environment. I wanted to do the same thing with distilling,” he said. As he started to put together a team, Cohen focused on one question.

“What if we create a product where all of us together are creating something better than any one of us could create alone?” With partners Scott Kennelly, Trey Mills and Tom Johnson on board, Manifest Distilling was born.

“The concept is manifesting something from nothing,” said Cohen.  

A far cry from bathtub gin

Cohen and his partners were clear-eyed about Manifest’s brand identity from day one. They wanted a “clean, contemporary brand,” said Cohen. Everything from the sophisticated labels on each bottle of whiskey, vodka, and gin to the distillery’s minimalist tasting room was designed to evoke a modern, luxurious feel.

The team consciously distanced itself from timeworn allusions to “grandpa's cough medicine,” but Manifest is about more than just clean lines and elevated style. The distillery is Jacksonville’s only full-scale organic distillery. “We choose to maintain a certified organic facility because it supports sustainable agriculture, not because the logo looks great on the bottle,” according to the company website.

Grains are sourced from a North American farm cooperative, and the oranges, grapefruits and lemons Manifest uses in its infused gins and vodkas are locally grown. “We make everything with a sense of place. We rely on ingredients that are grown in Florida to make these products truly unique,” said Cohen in a feature piece for Florida’s official tourism website. 

Manifest takes its commitment to American craftsmanship a step further with a hefty investment in distillation equipment made in the United States. (Perhaps as a nod to Cohen’s entertainment industry roots, each of Manifest’s mash tuns and other pieces of distillation equipment are named after Gilligan’s Island characters.)  

If transparency is one of the hallmarks of a modern brand, Manifest is setting the bar high. The company addresses its use of neutral spirits sourced from trusted partners in an unusually straightforward way, explaining that its gin and vodka offerings are redistilled on-premises to imbue them with a taste that is uniquely Manifest. The whiskey however, is a different story. Mashed, fermented, distilled, aged, and bottled on-site, Manifest’s award-winning rye-based whiskies are a true point of pride. 

Manifest destiny

After nearly seven years of hard work, Cohen and his partners have brought their vision of an agile, forward-looking brand to life. They cemented a reputation for delivering high-quality spirits, successfully navigated the pandemic, and continued to innovate beyond their original range of bottled spirits. (Although he’s a self-proclaimed “cocktail purist,” Cohen recently led the charge on Manifest’s foray into the exploding ready-to-drink cocktail niche. As a dad of three, he says “the concept of portability is really exciting.”) 

Armed with ambition, creativity, and an unyielding commitment to transparency, expect Manifest Distilling to continue making waves in the Florida craft spirits market and beyond. Manifest’s lead distiller Mike Mullis sees a bright future for the brand. “Each batch we do is even better. I can’t wait to see what the next five years bring us.” 

What’s in the box

Straight Rye Whiskey

Manifest’s typical Straight Rye Whiskey takes a classic approach to a uniquely American spirit. It has the spicy notes that rye brings, but finishes with the tropical smoothness of wheat. Using the best organic North American grains from a co-op of farm, rye is combined with hard red spring wheat to result in a slightly softened approach to Rye Whiskey.

Casks = Aged in American-grown White Oak barrels that are coopered and charred in Avon, MN

Mash Bill = 60% rye grain and 40% whole wheat

ABV = 100 proof


100% Rye Whiskey

In contrast to the Straight Rye Whiskey, the 100% Rye focuses on the flavor of just the rye grain, which brings forward bold, peppery notes with a balance of darker fruit-like black cherry.

Casks = Aged in American-grown White Oak barrels that are coopered and charred in Avon, MN

Mash Bill = 100% rye grain

ABV = 100 proof

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