Past Meets Present at Saint Augustine Distillery

St. Augustine Distillery, in Florida, is one more example of how the nation’s oldest city connects with its historic past.

The distillery is housed in a 1905 ice and power plant. Even in its heyday, the earlier facility was about recycling. The power plant used condensed steam generated by the boilers that produced power to recycle that steam into the boilers to make ice. Before electrical refrigerators, there was a huge demand for ice. Residents needed it to keep their ice boxes cool, fishermen and shrimpers needed it for their seafood; and railroads needed ice to cool Florida produce shipped north.

St Augustine Distillery is still recycling. The building’s exterior and some of the interior is original. The recycling goes way beyond that. The exterior entrances are steel factory doors from the 1930s. The steel windows are similar to the ice plant’s original ones. The tap room bar top is an 1880s recycle. There is so much recycling; even the floors are wood from historic 1860s Georgia homes as is the bar’s grand entrance staircase. Where ever restored material worked, it is used.

Saint Augustine Distillery Tour

A machine from the old ice plant on display in the museum at Saint Augustine Distillery

A machine from the old ice plant on display in the museum at Saint Augustine Distillery © Kathleen Walls.

I stepped into the small museum and had just a few minutes to enjoy the exhibits before our tour guide, Emily, ushered us into the theater where the movie screen and bench ends are from a 1920s Jacksonville theater. The video shows the recycling and ‘green’ spirit reaches far beyond the physical building. The corn, cane and other grains, as well as the citrus used to create the distillery’s bourbon, gin, vodka and rum come from local farmers produce. The used mash goes back to the farmers to feed cattle feed.

When you enter the distilling area, you can see the only remaining wall from the 1905 power and ice plant dating back to 1917. You feel like you are stepping back in time to when the original power plant expanded to start ice production. You’ll see an old bridge crane that originally used to lift huge blocks of ice out of their ice cube trays.

Emily explains the workings of the stills. FWT Magazine.

Emily explains the workings of the stills © Kathleen Walls.

Emily ‘introduced’ us to each of the stills. Yes, they have names. There’s Becky, the cooking still, named for one of the owners’ grandmother that liked to cook. Ella, the refining still is named for Ella Fitzgerald because, as Emily put it, “She has a beautiful, refined singing voice.”

She explained about the three byproducts of distilling, heat, co2 and alcohol, and showed us how they distill from the beer to the higher alcohol content. Of the three parts that emerge, heads, hearts and tails, they keep the hearts and refined it even farther in a smaller still to finish. Makes it taste even better.

Saint Augustine Distillery’s Bourbon

The distillery opened in March of 2014. From the beginning it was the aim of the distillery owners, Philip McDaniel and Mike Diaz, to produce Florida’s first bourbon. Since bourbon has strict aging rules, it was expedient to produce these other spirits first.

Emily led us through the room where they age the bourbon barrels. She pointed out how hot that room is. It’s because of the way they age it. In Florida bourbon develops color and flavor much faster due to the high heat and humidity. On September 9, 2016 Saint Augustine Distillery released their first bourbon. Emily noted that, “Making ice is easy. Booze is a lot more work than making ice. And it taste better than ice.” When we moved to the tasting bar where she poured samples of the different spirits, I had to agree.

Saint Augustine Distillery Tour Information

If you want to take a tour, the distillery is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. with free tours and tastings beginning every half-hour until 5 p.m.

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The gift shop at Saint Augustine Distillery showing some of the original steel beams. FWT Magazine.

The gift shop at Saint Augustine Distillery showing some of the original steel beams © Kathleen Walls.