St. Augustine Distillery

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St. Augustine Distillery

St. Augustine Distillery

A review of our tour through the St. Augustine Distillery located which is in a historic ice manufacturing plant built in 1917 in St. Augustine, Florida.

Hubby and I decided to visit the St. Augustine Distillery last month. The St. Augustine Distillery officially opened on March 7, 2014. My brother went to tour a few weeks after it opened last year, and told us how interesting the experience was. Since he enjoyed it so much, Hubby and I decided to take the tour ourselves.

Located inside the old FP&L Ice Plant, the St. Augustine Distillery is a small facility with a big dream. Craft distilling is growing in the United States by leaps and bounds! When Hubby and I have toured the Finger Lakes wine region, we have seen more then a few small distilleries. So why not in Florida where local sugar cane grows to make rum (not yet in production), and there are few places craftier in Florida (or more eclectic), than St. Augustine?

You can read the full story of the St. Augustine Distillery here.

Now I am going to be honest with you, I almost didn’t write this up. I was so angry when I left the distillery after a truly wonderful, FREE, tour, that I didn’t feel I could write a reasonable review.

So what happened? Well I am glad you asked…

St. Augustine Distillery

Hubby and I arrived at the St. Augustine Distillery approximately 20 minutes before the next tour. We were greeted by Chris (I think), and given “time cards” and a cute spiel about being employees of the distillery and paid in tastings at the end of our shift.

St. Augustine Distillery

Hubby and I went into the next room, where there was quite a bit of history packed into the place; north Florida farming, the ice house, and the process.

St. Augustine Distillery

Those are not really objects of torture, but ice tongs hanging above the door.

St. Augustine Distillery

St. Augustine Distillery

There were descriptions of grains, sugar, flowers and berries.

St. Augustine Distillery

St. Augustine Distillery

The old processes were on display.

St. Augustine Distillery

And needless to say I found this fascinating! “Gem” mills – small steam and water powered mills, or separate horse power mills, make strong enough to grind tropical sugar cane.

There is always a Buffalo connection!

St. Augustine Distillery

St. Augustine Distillery

When the tour began, we were ushered into a small theater room for a short documentary on how local this entire distilling process is. We “met” local farmers, the owners and crafters. Very enlightening.

And then it was time to tour the plant!

St. Augustine Distillery

St. Augustine Distillery

They packed a lot in a small space, and our tour guide was very informative. Right now, the St. Augustine Distillery is making vodka and gin. There are plans for rum.

St. Augustine Distillery

St. Augustine Distillery

And the bourbon in the large casts should be ready in 2016. The small casts will be further aged. edited I had it backward: Also, to clarify, the Bourbon in the small barrels should be ready in late 2016, while the Bourbon in the large barrels will age longer.

St. Augustine Distillery

This is where the bottles are hand stoppered.

St. Augustine Distillery

After our tour ended, we were ushered into the tasting room where we were offered small (shot) glasses of gin, vodka, as well as a mixed drink containing each.

In my opinion, the vodka was awful. It was harsh, and smelled a bit like turpentine.

I was not hopeful for the gin. I don’t particularly care for gin to begin with, and after trying the vodka I was apprehensive.

It was all for naught! The gin was delightful. It tasted like a bouquet! My brother and his girlfriend were visiting late last month, and they took the tour (my brother for the second time). They both agreed with my assessment – the vodka was disappointing, the gin a wonderful surprise.

St. Augustine Distillery

At this point the tour was over, so Hubby and I headed to the store to buy several bottles of gin (one for us, one for my mother). So far so good, right? It was a really great experience, the tour guide was knowledgeable, the free tasting, generous, so what had me so upset?

Hubby and I brought up our two pack of gin, and the cashier says, “I need to scan your license.”

To which I replied, “No.”

She shrugged, pulled back the package, and Hubby and I walked away.

Now as you all know, I have a son who is 26. I could not pass for under 40, let alone under 30, without a good deal of theatrical make-up. All sorts of nefarious ideas went through our heads as to what in the world the St. Augustine Distillery could possibly want to scan our driver’s license for, and nearly all circled back to selling our names to some marketing list.

To make matters worse, we went over to the liquor store two blocks down the road, and they were selling the St. Augustine Distillery gin for just a dollar more than the St. Augustine Distillery itself, so why would we ever buy at the distillery and take chances with our ID? Remember, this was not a carding for over 21 (that idea is hilarious enough), but scanning our license.

Well, it turns out it actually has to do with a Florida law limiting people from buying two bottles (not two of each type of liquor, two total bottles) per calendar year directly from an individual distillery. You can read about it here.

Ok great, so there is a law that forces them to keep track of purchases. Fine. I get that. So why didn’t the cashier tell us this instead of shrugging her shoulders and allowing us to walk out?!? I actually found out from my brother about this law. When he went last year, the clerk checking out the person in front of him in line told that person about the law, and my brother eavesdropped on the conversation. I do fault the St. Augustine Distillery clerk for not telling us this – not that it would have mattered to the sale; we still would not have purchased, but it would have left me with a better perception of the St. Augustine Distillery. Believe me, when I walked out of there my perception was anything but positive. If there was a sign in the store explaining the law, we did not see it. And if there was a sign in the store explaining this law, the clerk did not point it out to us. She truly just shrugged her shoulders and watched us walk out. That is some terrible customer service after a wonderful distillery tour.

So, I highly recommend your taking the St. Augustine Distillery tour. At this writing the tour is free, the tasting is free, and our guide and the tasting room server were wonderful. I do not recommend you buy directly from the St. Augustine Distillery if you care about having your identification in some Florida databank. You truly can go down the road to the ABC liquor and buy the same bottle for a dollar more without anyone tracking your purchases (assuming you pay with cash).

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  1. Harper Gould says

    Thank you for your write up of the St. Augustine Distillery. We are glad you enjoyed the tour experience, but are disappointed that you did not enjoy the vodka. Our vodka generally receives rave reviews, and has even won two prestigious awards: The Double Gold award from, and the Bronze award from the American Craft Spirits Association. That is great that you enjoyed the gin, which actually won the Gold award from the American Craft Spirits Association.
    Also, to clarify, the Bourbon in the small barrels should be ready in late 2016, while the Bourbon in the large barrels will age longer.
    Regarding your experience in the retail store, we are quite unhappy to hear that you had an unpleasant interaction and apologize on behalf of the retail team member you encountered. While the tour guides generally inform guests about the 2-bottle limit during the tour, members of the retail team should kindly reiterate that to guests who are unaware of the policy.
    To address your concerns about us scanning your driver’s license and how that information will be used, we assure you that your name and information DO NOT GO TO ANY GOVERNMENT DATABASE, MARKETING LIST OR OTHER EXTERNAL LIST. The only data that is retained by our system is your name and driver’s license number. This data is stored internally in our computer system, so that if a customer attempts to purchase more than two bottles within a calendar year, the computer will alert us that this person has reached the legal limit and we will not proceed with the purchase. This is the most efficient way for us to make sure that we are following the law. At the end of each calendar year, all of this information is erased from our system.
    Finally, the reason we recommend that people make a purchase from us before purchasing from one of our retail partners is because of another legal requirement: the three tier system. Florida law dictates that we cannot sell directly to customers; we must sell to a wholesaler. The two bottle on-site sales are a specific exemption from the law. Because of this, we receive a much smaller price from the wholesaler, so that the wholesaler and retailer can each make a profit. Therefore, it takes the sale of about 3 bottles of our spirits through an outside retailer to equal the profit of the sale of one bottle from our distillery. Since we are a new, small business making a huge investment in our bourbon production, it really makes a difference when people buy from us. It allows us to continue to reinvest in our business and the local community, and provide those free tours!
    We really appreciate your visit and feedback, and would love to have you back to see us again.

    Harper Gould
    St. Augustine Distillery

    • Hi Harper,

      Thanks for the bourbon correction, I edited my post.

      I completely understand that the distillery will make more money from a direct purchase than via a liquor store purchase, but I stand by my recommendation to avoid purchasing from any Florida distillery where scanning identification is necessary. In this day and age of unsecured computer systems and identity theft, there is no way I would recommend purchase from a store where identification is scanned, and housed, out of control of the consumer. The St. Augustine Distillery would do better to band with other Florida crafters and distilleries to to pressure the state legislature to amend this law further. Unfortunately, politics being what it is, you face an uphill battle against liquor stores, grocery stores, and liquor distributors.


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