GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — David Molyneaux's retirement last year lasted all of 45 days before he got bored with tennis and golf and travel.
He had a full career designing accessories for magnetic resonance imaging devices, patenting numerous technologies and overseeing research, engineering and manufacturing to build a team of four at MRI Devices through a couple acquisitions to what is now Invivo Corporation, a division of Philips with 600 people in three buildings behind the 34th Street post office.
For his next chapter, he wanted a challenge. He wanted to build a business from something he knew nothing about.
"I decided, 'Hey, I love spirits. I like a good whiskey. I'm going to make whiskey.' "
Molyneaux dove in, spending 60 to 80 hours a week for six weeks researching the spirits industry. He talked to bankrupt distillers, and visited successful distilleries, breweries and wineries. He learned the Prohibition-era laws that still govern spirits distribution in Florida.
He leased the former Stubbies & Steins location at 9 W. University Ave. with plans to open a distillery and tasting room.
He soon discovered that distilling a product that was 85 percent ethyl alcohol — "like jet fuel" —in a 1930s building in the center of town "presented particular challenges to everyone who had to sign off on it, including myself."
Instead, he set his sights on having an infusion and bottling facility and tasting room, with raw spirits brought in to infuse with fruits, spices and vegetables. He found distilleries that could sell raw spirits that he could infuse, bottle and sell under his own brand. He found others that would make spirits on contract from his ingredient list.
One of those was Fish Hawk Spirits, a 4-year-old distillery on a farm between Ocala and Dunnellon. Molyneaux said he fell in love with Fish Hawk's vision of making fine spirits from Florida ingredients, some of which they grew and harvested themselves. He bought into the business and now serves as its CEO with plans to open infusion, bottling and tasting rooms in Gainesville, Ocala, Tampa and Orlando by the end of next year.
Fish Hawk already makes a tangerine brandy, a blueberry vodka with berries from the Island Grove farm south of Hawthorne, an absinthe and the Twisted Sun rum, selling about 3,000 bottles a year to 100 liquor stores and 200 bars and restaurants.
The distillery is also in the process of making corn whiskey from corn grown on the farm under the name Suis Generis, Latin for one of a kind and Molyneaux's original name for his distillery and tasting room.
Molyneaux said he hopes to open in Gainesville around April. Because of Florida laws, he cannot sell spirits to drink on the premises, but will offer free samples in the tasting room and sell bottles to go, along with Fish Hawk shirts, hats, mugs and can openers.
The whiskey will run from $49 to $199 a bottle.
"It being craft and being local and being great are all the things we're going to try to bank ourselves on," he said.
The business will also offer tours of the infusion and bottling part of the facility and trips to the distillery.
Molyneaux grew up on the south side of Chicago and studied at the Milwaukee School of Engineering where he did a residency at the Medical College of Wisconsin to develop the first MRI accessories for General Electric. After graduating in 1987, he spent 11 years with Picker International in Cleveland as inventor, engineer and manager. He and a couple other people left the company to form MRI Devices out of two existing companies in Gainesville and Milwaukee, with Molyneaux coming to Florida to run the Gainesville operations. The company was bought by Intermagnetics General Corporation in 2004 and that was bought by Philips in 2006.
Molyneaux has helped start a couple other technology companies and invested in a log cabin builder that went belly up with the housing crash. He has mentored University of Florida engineering and business students, served on the Alachua County Seeds of Science board that backs the science fair and is fundraising chairman for the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention, which plans to break ground in March.
"I have a passion for science and breeding the next generation of entrepreneurs," he said.
For the past year, he has also served as one of six mentors in residence at the UF Innovation Hub, providing advice and in some cases, investment funds, to tenants' companies.
"I love to teach other people what I've learned," he said. "I like to teach people the mistakes that I've made so they don't make the same mistakes."
Information from: The Gainesville (Fla.) Sun, http://www.gainesvillesun.com
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