While walking St. Augustine’s old city streets, a new label on the shelf caught our eye. In a 1920’s letterpress, art nouveau and hand-illustrated style design, these gems said “St. Augustine Distillery.” Oh really? Is there something here that I haven’t explored? Was Ponce de Leon drinking this stuff – and who is “the guy” peering through sugar cane on the vodka bottle label? Turns out the St. Augustine Distillery just popped up in 2013, after extensively repurposing a 1905 – 1926 ice plant. Currently, they are producing vodka and gin currently for sale, however, the bourbon’s are currently “baking” in the non-climate controlled storehouse to be ready in 2018. Soon they also hope to utilize heirloom sugarcane to make clear rum. But let’s get to the tasting.
Though the distillery is “new” they’ve gone through painstaking efforts to give the entire building and tour a feeling of old nostalgia. We punched a time card as we walked in and the tour guide was in the lobby greeting us immediately like an old neighbor. We then proceeded to peruse around the museum loaded with information and items on display to get us acquainted with the process of distilling. Photos, plaques, grains and a copper pot added to the intellectual process. Led to the film room by the tour guide, we watched a short flick on the mission of the distillery. It was great to see the faces of the community and farmers who put their blood, sweat, and tears into working for the distillery as well as perfecting their craft. So who are the “guys” on the bottle labels? The farmers who cut your cane and citrus that end up in your drink! The small-batch feel and handmade craft shows while watching the product come alive from beginning to end in the short documentary.
We then were walked into the working distillery. It was awesome to see the distilling happening right in front of us and to smell the yeast, alcohol and “angel’s share” (evaporating alcohol escaping from the bourbon barrels). It was also pretty cool to be “in the way” of the workers, immersed in the action and shifting to move out of the way like on a VIP tour – but this was everyone’s tour.
After learning about the cuts and the copper stills, we were welcomed into a warehouse-type bar where our friendly and down to earth tour guide mixed us a Florida Mule with St. Augustine vodka and a New World Gin and Tonic with St. Augustine gin. These were lovely drinks – the vodka incredibly smooth and refreshing. The gin was complex and delicious with citrus and cinnamon notes aside from the expected juniper flavors. Please see the recipes here.
Like a Disney world ride, the tour ended with a trip to the gift shop, but nevertheless, we were dying to purchase two bottles of gin and the handcrafted “strong tonic” syrup so we could make our own special gin and tonics at home. We also purchased the copper mule cup as they kept uber cold during the demonstration in the bar. Lovingly stamped with the logo of the distillery, I’ll be enjoying many cocktails in my souvenir cup.