Last weekend I took an impromptu (the best kind) trip to St. Augustine. I got a great deal on a hotel and really needed to get away. Apparently being in the same place for a week and a half is a bit much for me.
The hotel I was staying at, the Casa Monica, gave out a flyer at reception that had suggestions of things to do in town. I’ve done just about every trolley ride and ghost tour in St. Augustine, so I really just planned on wandering around until something struck my fancy, but then I saw a distillery tour advertised on the flyer, with free tastings. You had me at free booze.
The St. Augustine Distillery was built inside the oldest ice plant in Florida, the historic FP&L ice plant built in 1907. I really wish I was alive in a time when ice plants were a thing. Selling ice to Floridians has to be a gold mine.
Upon arrival at the distillery, we were asked to punch in for work.
The tour was to start in about 10 minutes, in the meantime we were directed to a waiting area museum.
The museum covered the buildings history as an ice plant as well as the farming and distilling processes that go into making the liquors they sell at the plant today.
Once inside we watched a short film interviewing the local farmers and owners about the mission of the distillery. Our tour guide Kelsey then took us further into the distillery and explained more about the distilling process.
Eventually the distillery will have rum, gin, and bourbon available, but for now it’s new enough that only the vodka was ready. We can expect gin in the summer and bourbon in about 4 years.
We then moved into the tasting room, the best part!
Here we sampled the vodka. The St. Augustine Distillery makes sugar cane vodka, which outside of this distillery, is only made in South America. We tried a taste of the vodka and then Kelsey mixed us a drink called a Florida Mule (which is pretty much the same as a Moscow Mule except the vodka is made in Florida).
Seeing that building used to be an ice plant and we had just learned how cocktails had gone downhill since people stopped using ice blocks, they had to make the cocktail the old fashioned way. Kelsey put a block of ice into a sack and then beat it with this mallet until it had the consistency of snow.
Apparently, when people used to use ice blocks they were frozen at a much colder temperature than modern ice so that they would last longer and could be transported. This meant that the ice stayed frozen in drinks longer and didn’t water them down.
After we were finished with the tasting, co-founder and CEO of the distillery, Philip McDaniel stopped by and told us a little about the distillery and the legal battles to get Florida to allow the sale of the liquor directly to the public at the distillery.
He even stayed around and signed bottles for people in the gift shop.
Turns out for all of the legal battles, they came out ahead and are allowed to sell to the public, but only 2 bottles per person per year. I lived in Tennessee, so I’m no stranger to wacky liquor laws. They take this pretty seriously and scan your drivers license, but I left with the maximum legally allowable.
While talking with Phil he recommended checking out the Ice Plant Bar, which opened at 5pm for cocktails and food. He also wisely told us to sit at the bar for the best view of the action.
Phil did not steer us wrong. We arrived at about 10 minutes before opening and there was already a line outside the door. When the doors finally opened we got the last two seats at the bar, but it was definitely worth the wait.
The bar specialized in old fashioned cocktails made with large ice blocks,
and the menu was extensive.
It was understandably a difficult decision, especially with my menu issues, but the first drinks we tried were the St. George Sour and the La Dona.
The drinks were delicious, and we were glad to have a front row seat to watch them being made. The bartenders were pretty impressive.
We also ordered food while we were there, which was just as difficult as picking out drinks.
We tried the Devils on Horseback (bacon wrapped dates, served on a buttermilk bleu cheese puree),
and the Fennel-Cured Salmon and Cucumber Terrine with Arugula Fennel Salad.
Both were fantastic! I had a great burger, but I was a little drunk and hungry so I ate it before pictures happened. After we ate it was time for a second round of drinks. I had the El Mariachi, at the recommendation of our bartender Zach.
We also ordered the Veuxxe Carre, based entirely on the sphere of ice it was served with.
The St. Augustine Distillery and the Ice Plant Bar are an amazing addition to St. Augustine and I will for sure be back, probably in the summer when the gin is ready and to try the rest of the menu!