If you didn’t know already, Florida recently made some changes to laws from the Prohibition era. Over 80 years after it was repealed, Gov. Rick Scott signed HB 347, allowing Florida’s “craft distilleries” the ability to sell locally made liquors to the public, directly from their businesses.
In a press release following the change, Philip McDaniel, who co-owns St. Augustine’s newest distillery, as well as being chairman of the Florida Craft Distillers Guild, said, “For us, the most exciting part of this is that we can now complete the customer experience.”
Ryan Dettra, who works in marketing for the distillery, said they chose St. Augustine because they love the city.
“We thought this was a good opportunity for the town, because its strength is tourism and history,” he said. “What we’re planning on doing just fits in.”
With new freedom, the St. Augustine Distillery and head distiller, Brendan Wheatley, are planning to produce rum, vodka, gin and eventually bourbon with an annual capacity of 20,000 to 30,000 cases a year.
There are currently only 15 craft distilleries in Florida, one of course being the St. Augustine Distillery. A craft distillery is defined as a distillery making less than 75,000 gallons a year on-site.
What makes these craft distilleries like St. Augustine so special? Well, the saying, “quality over quantity,” is exactly the mindset of the First Coast’s new distillery.
One way the St. Augustine Distillery creates a better product is by collaborating with local farms and citrus growers, which provide them with high quality, non-GMO crops. “Our boots are grounded in our local agriculture,” reads a sign in the distillery.
From grain to glass, the St. Augustine Distillery uses the best locally grown ingredients from farms in the surrounding areas. A few of these farms include the KYV Farm, the Rogers Farm and the Wells Brothers Farm, which is one of the few growers of non-GMO corn and red winter wheat that makes the St. Augustine Distillery’s bourbon.
The KYV Farm, a certified organic farm in St. Johns County, provides the distillery with heirloom sugarcane that nearly became extinct. These unique cane varieties will eventually create the first agricultural rum produced in Florida from fresh cane juice.
The St. Augustine Distillery’s citrus comes from the Rogers Farm, located in the famous Indian River Citrus District, which provide them with a juicier and sweeter fruit.
A plaque inside the distillery’s museum, where people can take a tour and learn about the history of distilling, reads, “We believe that the techniques of traditional craft distilling produces a superior, artisan-quality product.”
When creating their liquors, the St. Augustine Distillery uses traditional methods for producing a superior product that takes more time and money, but produces a much higher quality result. One of these methods includes making the heads, hearts and tail cuts by hand, a process that removes negative elements of the alcohol that are known for causing things like hangovers.
When producing their gin and botanical vodkas, the St. Augustine Distillery grinds their herbs whole with a vintage hand burr mill that brings out both the freshness and vibrancy just before going into the drink.
During the procedure of reducing a spirit’s proof, they use a multi-step process that takes up to a month to complete, but helps to prevent damage to the spirit’s delicate bouquet, and these are just a few of the traditional processes implemented by the distillery.
Though some laws have changed, there are still laws governing alcohol manufacturing and distribution, so the distillery and restaurant are under separate ownership. The Ice Plant, which opened in the fall, has already been noticed by big publications, such as Southern Living.