I know it’s not beer, but I wanted to add this entry to the blog because I found it particularly interesting, awesome, and a lot of fun. And it’s Florida, with a homegrown business that supports and prides itself on supporting other Florida businesses.
That being said, St. Augustine Distillery, dear readers.
That’s St. Augustine’s old Power and Ice Plant, built in the early 1900’s. It’s pretty close to San Sebastian Winery, and just down the road from A1A Ale Works, kind of a triangle of alcohol goodness. St. Augustine Distillery makes a pretty big point of pointing out all the old trusswork, brickwork, etc. of the building. It’s a gorgeous facility, and if the steelwork and walls aren’t original, they sure did a good job making it look old. It’s very Disney inside; you’re not totally sure if it’s real or if it’s theming.
That theming starts the moment you enter the tour, which involves ‘punching’ your time sheet. Because you work there. And if you want free samples, you need to work. But it’s free vodka and gin. Just punch the ticket; the drinks are worth it.
Up next is the well-made and detailed museum. The Distillery spends a good amount of time and energy describing who they are and giving a crystal clear picture of how they support U.S. businesses, and businesses in North Florida in particular, when sourcing the materials they needed for the distillery. There was even a fairly good description of the grains they use, and a sample cooperage area, complete with barrel you can lift and play with (and wow, those things are heavy).
After a prerequisite video, we finally hit the distillery floor. And it sure smells like a distillery; quite heady stuff if you’re not totally ready for it. It smells wonderful for the rest of us. The copper stills are gorgeous, however, and it’s fairly interesting to see not only their working space, but also explanations of how the former ice plant used to work.
As of the time of my visit, St. Augustine Distillery had bottles of vodka and gin ready. The bourbon, as you can see above, is still aging and should be ready in a few years. The rum, much to my extreme disappointment, won’t be ready until the beginning of 2015. Personally, that’s what I wanted most, since I’m more of a rum drinker than anything else. I’m not sure I would be against driving back up there next year to get some of their rum, however.
Now for the samples. It starts off with a clean shot of vodka, which is very pure, very crisp, and has little aftertaste. From there, it goes into a nice breakdown of their signature Florida Mule, a sweeter version of the Moscow Mule. Yes, it needs the copper mug the recipe calls for. Here’s a video of the Mule being made. You’ll notice that there’s a fair amount of ‘equipment’ that is used in this video. It’s good quality, and (naturally) they sell it, but I can’t say for certain it’s entirely necessary. Except for the copper mug. My wife was such a big fan of them and how they made the Mules taste that we got a matching set.
Yeah, I got a little ‘artsy’ at the end of the video. So the gift shop is well stocked, pretty, a little pricey, but has some nice stuff. Importantly, it has a lot of bottles of their gin and vodka.
I know a 2-pack of 1 bottle of each is around $50. It’s pre-packaged so you can just grab the box. And yes, you’re going to want one. I would also flip through one of the many tourist books you can find in the area. Many of them have a coupon for a free shot glass with a $25 purchase. We went back twice, so I ended up getting two. If not, the shot glasses are a big $3, which isn’t bad.
What’s really nice, however, is the Ice Plant Bar, a bar and restaurant upstairs from the gift shop. As you can expect, it continues the sort of 1920’s flair that the rest of the location has, and it does it quite nicely. It’s also wonderfully sunny, aided by giant windows all around the seating area.
As you can see, the bar is very well stocked with a lot of things I’ve never heard of. It also has a respectable craft beer list from North Florida stalwarts such as Bold City, Intuition, and some selections from Cigar City and Monk in the Trunk. There are a few others from breweries outside of Florida like Terrapin and Highland, as well. (Looking over the list, I’m fairly sure they all are cans/bottles. I didn’t see a tap anywhere). But how can you order a beer at a place like this?
Interestingly enough, being called the Ice Plant, they take a pretty extraordinary amount of attention into the ice they use in each of their drinks. The white drink I have pictured, interestingly titled ‘The Moon and Antarctica,’ features a giant mound of shaved ice. It only collapses when the drink is poured into it, which is usually done tableside. I was a little bummed about the ‘Gentlemen’s Club’. While the drink was fantastic and watching the sheer amount of labor that went into making it was kinda interesting, (and my wife stole the awesome black cherry it came with), the menu stated the drink was supposed to be served with a giant sphere of ice. I got normal blocks. Didn’t change the taste of the drink, but I still would have liked my ice ball, darnit.
My wife and I were both in agreement that this would be a dangerous place to have local to us. And, even though it has been open less than a year, I’m surprised that it’s not nearly as busy as it could be. Mind you, I haven’t been there on a Friday night, but I would think more people would pack this place.
As for the distillery itself, Publix should start carrying their vodka and gin soon, but possibly only in North Florida. If you’re interested, call them, and they can forward you to the liquor store that may be able to ship some to you. For me, however, it’ll be another reason to head back north soon.
P.S. I still want to see them share their bourbon barrels with someone like Bold City, Aardwolf, or Intuition and get some Florida aged beers…
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