Booze has been a part of St. Augustine since the Old City’s beginnings, when sailors brought rum with them from the Caribbean—made, of course, from all that sweet sugar cane. Pirates and sailors practically lived off rum while at sea because it wouldn't go bad. The British Navy even gave their sailors a daily ration of rum, called a tot. And in the 1700s, St. Augustine was home to 40 taverns. In fact, several years ago, when the city was excavating land on the bayfront for the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum, archaeologists fittingly found 17th-century rum bottles, among other artifacts.
But today, long gone are the sailors sloshing cheap beer and rum. Instead, sophisticated travelers and local hipsters can be found sipping samples at the St. Augustine Distillery—currently the city’s No. 1 attraction on TripAdvisor—near the San Sebastian River, in St. Augustine’s historic Lincolnville neighborhood. The St. Augustine Distillery honors these old-school traditions with modern methods of craft distilling, and its work is getting noticed—both by beverage connoisseurs and by tourists wanting a good drink, an interesting tour and cool souvenirs.
Though it’s located in the oldest city in the U.S. and inhabits the lovingly restored FP&L Ice Plant (circa 1907—it was the first of its kind to make commercial block ice in Florida over 100 years ago), St. Augustine Distillery is actually a relatively new business collaborative, founded in 2014 by a group of locals that sought to bring the craft-distilling trend to Florida. The result is a beautiful and well-designed craft distillery churning out fine craft spirits—including Florida’s first bourbon.
The distillery makes small-batch whiskey, rum, vodka and gin, using sugar cane, wheat, corn and citrus grown in Florida. For its award-winning Florida Cane Vodka—made from Florida-farmed sugar cane—the distillation process yields an end product free from impurities, with hints of green apple, white pepper and molasses for a smooth-drinking vodka. And for its acclaimed New World Gin? Its secret is using just enough juniper to support good structure, along with balanced citrus and spice notes such as cassia bark and angelica. The distillery also hand-grinds fresh herbs with a vintage burr mill in order to preserve the botanicals' freshness and vibrancy. All the attention to detail has paid off: St. Augustine Distillery has been named the Best Craft Gin Distillery in the United States in USA Today’s 10Best Readers’ Choice Travel Awards, and it’s been awarded gold medals in the 2016 Los Angeles International Spirits Competition, 2015 American Craft Spirits Association Competition and 2015 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Its gin was also named “Best Gin of the South” in Southern Living magazine’s Food Awards, and its vodka was awarded a Double-Gold Medal by TheFiftyBest.com in the site’s “Best Domestic Vodka” contest.
Locally founded and community-owned, the welcoming distillery offers free daily tours—including tastings—to visitors. “The distillery is very mindful of creating an experience-based tour where your senses are engaged,” says Kara Pound, director of communications at the distillery. “We invite guests to see our beautifully renovated ice plant from the turn of the century. Hear our story. Smell our spirits being distilled, and taste the amazing cocktails that they make. Every part of our tour is designed to create an experience and lasting memories of a person’s time in St. Augustine.” Tours are offered every 30 minutes until 5 pm, seven days a week. The distillery also has a small museum and a gift shop, so that customers can take home their own bottles, along with fun and innovative tools for their kitchens and bars at home.
Adjacent to the St. Augustine Distillery is the trendy Ice Plant Bar, named for the formerly operational ice factory it inhabits. While the distillery and restaurant are two separate entities, the Ice Plant is an excellent place to have dinner and sip a craft cocktail made with St. Augustine whiskey, rum, gin or vodka. Mixology is a serious business here, and attention is paid to the smallest of details—like the use of three different kinds of ice, a nod to the building’s origins. A farm-to-table menu offers an upscale spin on bar food (think local seafood, grass-fed burgers and a board of local cheeses). Pair culinary offerings with inventive cocktails like the Wodka Flocka Flame, made with Wodka Vodka, pineapple, passion fruit, lime, honey, Campari and bitters. Classic drinks are also a good bet, like the Richmond Gimlet or the Florida Mule, made with St. Augustine Vodka, ginger, lime, soda and mint. Cheers!
St. Augustine Distillery tour hours: daily 10:30 am-5 pm. Gift-shop hours: daily 10 am-6 pm. Ice Plant Bar hours: Su 10 am-midnight; M 11:30 am-midnight; Tu-F 11:30 am-2 am; Sa 10 am-2 am.
112 Riberia St., 904.825.4963, www.staugustinedistillery.com