TAMPA — Less than a year after opening their distillery in Brandon, the owners of Florida Cane Vodka expect to join the growing collection of locally produced food and drink at the Forum downtown.
Pat O’Brien said his company plans to sign a deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning this week. The distiller specializes in vodka made with sugar cane and Florida-grown fruit.
The vodka maker based near Falkenburg Road is partnering with restaurants Anise Global Gastrobar and Grille One Sixteen to create a cocktail menu featuring the cane vodka at two bars in Section 101 of the Forum.
O’Brien hopes the spots will raise the profile of locally made liquor and bring craft spirits on par with craft beers, which have taken the Tampa area by storm in recent years.
“We’re bringing local flavor to the arena as well as high-quality cocktails,” O’Brien said.
The Forum is the latest addition to the list of Tampa-area venues now catering to visitors with a taste for locally sourced food. Tampa International Airport and Tropicana Field led the way in recent years.
When the Lightning’s season opens at home on Oct. 10, the Forum’s local food offerings will include three food trucks parked in Thunder Alley for each of the Lightning’s 43 home games.
Hosting food trucks outdoors gives the Forum flexibility and food options in a way that isn’t possible inside the arena for the 43 home games, Forum general manager Darryl Benge.
Tampa-based World of Beer moved into the Forum at the end of August and offers 10 beers on tap, including two local Cigar City brands. The Forum is World of Beer’s first venture into sports arenas.
World of Beer sits in Section 116, across the Forum’s main entrance from Florida Cane Vodka’s cocktail bars.
Last week, Holy Hog Barbecue, which has locations in South Tampa and West Tampa, became the newest local restaurant to open at the Forum. The restaurant operates on the Bud Lite Party Deck.
Holy Hog opened Sept. 19, just in time for two pre-season games. Owner Danny Hernandez is offering an abbreviated menu that includes brisket sandwiches and jalapeño macaroni and cheese.
Similar to other food service operations at local arenas, the stand is operated by crews from the Forum’s food service provider, but supervised by Holy Hog’s staff, Hernandez said.
“The response has been incredibly positive,” Hernandez said. “It’s nice to see our Holy Hog fans have found us.”
Benge said the center’s managers decided this year to include more local food.
By bellying up to World of Beer or Holy Hog, Forum visitors know what they are getting and feel good about supporting a local business, Benge said.
“Fans want us to provide a first-class experience and they don’t always want to eat and drink the typical stadium and arena fare,” Benge said. “It’s important for us to reach out to the community to see what’s fresh and exciting.”