Field Trips: Saint Augustine Distillery

All photos courtesy Paul Senft.  Saint Augustine, Florida known for its gorgeous beaches, historic Spanish Fort, and local tourist attractions has drawn travelers for centuries. Colonized by Spain in 1565, the region became a defensive outpost and waypoint for ships traveling the Spanish Main until the 1800s. This city over the years has persevered against wars and natural disasters, giving it a character unique to any other city in the United States. It had been roughly a decade since we had visited the city, so it was time to return and take in a distillery tour.

St. Augustine Distillery was founded at a defunct ice house at the edge of the historic district. Built in 1907, it was considered Florida’s largest ice production facility until it closed in the 50s. In 2010, four local business people: Ryan Dettra, Mike Diaz, Philip McDaniel and Patricia McLemore united to revitalize the location with an investment of close to three million dollars and make it the home to the distillery and adjacent Ice Plant bar.

With tours every half hour we did not wait long before receiving an introduction from our tour guide detailing the history of the location, the spirits produced, and the rules of the distillery. One of the facts they are proud of is that all materials used to produce their spirits are sourced in Florida with the exception of the malt barley which they laughingly state comes from “north of the border”. When the distillery opened in 2013 it began producing rum and vodka. They quickly added gin to the lineup and in September of 2016 became the only Florida distillery producing bourbon.

The next phase of the tour is the heart of the distillery. The smell of fermentation and heat of the stills greets us as we pack into the area. The room is filled with fermentation tanks, ingredients, and the stars of the show: two 550 gallon Vendome pot stills and a small Artisanal pot still for their gin. On the day we toured they were at the distillation stage of rum production and we got to see the staff running around taking measurements and making the head cuts. The tour then went to the lab, bottling, and barreling areas before moving on to the next to last section: the tasting room.

There we were given samples of three cocktails: one featuring the vodka with their branded Florida Mule mixer, the Rum with their Tiki mixer, and the Gin with their Grapefruit-Hibiscus mixer. Our tour ended in true Florida fashion by having us exit through the gift shop where they provided a cocktail demonstration and poured samples of their spirits, including their distillery exclusives - Barrel Aged Gin and Port Finished Bourbon. The Port Finished Bourbon uses barrels from the nearby San Sebastian Winery.

Some members of our tour went on to visit the Ice Plant Bar. We chose to save that for another visit, for we will be back, and continued our exploration of historic Saint Augustine.