We had a few extra hours in St. Augustine, FL, and after consulting TripAdvisor, discovered that the St. Augustine Distillery is a highly recommended tourist stop. Well, heck, why not?
We are so glad that we did! The tour is very interesting. The restoration of the building is fascinating. The tasting is fun.
When you enter the door for the tour an employee hands you a time card and explains that you are now an employee of the distillery. You clock in, using an antique time clock, and if you care to, fill out contact information on the bottom portion of the card. While you wait for the tour to begin you can enjoy a small museum that describes the contents of the different spirits, the distillation process, how ice was procured in days of yore, and how bottles were smuggled during prohibition in bundles of 6, called a “ham sack”.
Ham Sacks in a wooden trunk
Legend has it (according to the St. Augustine distillery) that Bill McCoy sold his ship building business to sell high-quality whiskey from his schooner in International waters.
The distillery is located in the original St. Augustine ice manufacturing plant, which was constructed in 1905. The developers of the distillery worked to deconstruct changes made throughout the years in order to return the building to its original walls, ceilings, windows and floors. They did this without borrowing money from banks, instead tapping local resources for financial support to get the distillery off the ground.
The distillery began making spirits 18 months prior to our tour. They currently have gin, vodka and rum available, but the bourbon has not aged enough to be bottled and sold.
Scenes from inside the distillery
Bottles are filled and capped by hand
Following the tour through part of the distillery, we were treated to a taste of two cocktails, a
Moscow Florida Mule and a gin and tonic. Our guide told us the history of the drinks as she mixed a sample, and then let us enjoy a refreshing taste.
2 oz St. Augustine Vodka
2 oz Mule Mix (4 parts lime juice, 2 parks simple syrup, 1 part ginger juice)
*our guide showed us how to “clap” the mint between our palms to bruise the leaf and release the fragrant oils
This drink is traditionally served in a copper mug to retain its ice cold temperature.
Gin & Tonic
1.5 oz St. Augustine Gin
.5 oz strong tonic syrup
3 oz soda water
2-3 drops 18-21 Bitters (Grapefruit & Lavender)
Stir (don’t shake) and serve over ice.
(our guide explained that the tonic water we are accustomed to seeing in the supermarket is bitter. Using the ingredients described above will make a much smoother drink. Based on the taste we were given - she was right!)
Tasting cocktails after the tour
Of course, the syrup and bitters were available in the gift shop, along with copper mugs, glasses, ice trays, jiggers, and…. bottles of vodka, gin or rum!
The distillery ran into some issues with the law when they first opened. It turned out that Florida distilleries are not allowed to sell spirits to individuals. The distillery operators approached the lawmakers and laws were changed so they could sell two bottles of each label to an individual once per year. Thus, visitors could buy two bottles of gin, two bottles of rum and two bottles of vodka. Someone (probably a lawyer) reviewed the law, and came up with a way to skirt the law! It's all in the interpretation. What if the distillery created different labels for the same product? Ah hah!
Here are three of the four different "labels" of vodka!