Monday, July 6, 2020

St. Augustine: A Craft Beverage Destination

For two decades now, while driving to South Florida, we have been inclined to include a detour into St. Augustine to visit the historical sights such as the Old Town, the Spanish Quarter, the Castillo de San Marcos, the Lighthouse, and the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine.  These visits also included a stop at the city's only craft beverage establishment - San Sebastian Winery - as we had become fans of their Blanc Du Bois and Port styled wines. They also provided an excellent tour of their facilities as well as a rooftop pavilion with satisfying glasses of white sangria.

In the past few years, other craft beverage outlets joined San Sebastian along the Trolley Tour Route such as St. Augustine Distillery - situated only a couple blocks away in the Historic FP&L Ice Plant (the first commercial enterprise to produce block ice in Florida over 100 years ago). The distillery is a business collaborative of 28 local entrepreneurs who utilize local sugar cane, wheat, corn, and citrus to produce whiskey, rum, vodka, and gin. They also contacted the world’s leading distilling experts to assist in crafting the spirits recipe and local bartenders on drafting recommended cocktails. They also emulated San Sebastian's tour design and provide one of the most insightful free walking tours of a distillery. Each station includes a free cocktail sample and the museum provides a history of block ice production as well as a legality neutral history of distilling in The Sunshine State.

For this trip, we intentionally targeted the distillery in order to purchase a bottle of their Port Finished Bourbon ($80, 102 proof).  This whiskey starts as their Florida Double Cask Bourbon which is made from a mash bill of 60% regional corn, 22% malted barley, and 18% regional wheat that is then finished in used San Sebastian Port barrels. For both the Florida Double Cask and Port Finished bourbons, distiller Lucas Smith worked closely with the late Dave Pickerell on the first blends and barrel selection as well as the final proof. Interestingly, the Florida Double Cask weighs in at on odd 93.8 proof as that was the proof that all "blenders" agreed upon.  The Double Cask refers to the use of initial 25-gallon barrels in which the spirit was then transferred to seasoned 53-gallon casks in order to slow the maturation process. The result is a phenomenon whiskey
and with the additional Port finishing imparts a slight sherry profile along with the raisins and cinnamon.

We also left with a bottle of the Pot Distilled Rum ($45, 90 proof) and the Florida Cane Vodka ($28, 80 proof). The rum is produced from regional sugarcane syrups and molasses and aged in used St. Augustine bourbon barrels. The spirit is straw-colored with a surprising coconut and baking spices profile. There's a mild dose of heat but the finish is very smooth and clean. The vodka is pot distilled from 100% Florida-farmed sugar. This provides a subtle molasses character with a clean finish.  The Florida Mule was its primary purpose and here are several other recommended cocktails:

•  2 ounces Pot Distilled Rum
•  1 ounce honey syrup
•  1 ounce lime juice
•  few dashes of bitters
Garnish with orange peel.

The Lolita
•  1.5 ounces Florida Cane Vodka
•  0.5 ounce fresh lemon juice
•  0.5 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
•  0.5 st. germaine
•  0.25 ounce simple syrup
•  3 dashes of peychauds bitters
Garnish with a grapefruit peel.
•  2 ounces Pot Distilled Rum
•  0.75 ounce lime juice
•  0.75 ounce simple syrup
•  10 leaves of fresh mint
•  top with soda water
Garnish with fresh mint.
The Florida Mule
•  1.5 ounces Florida Cane Vodka
•  1.5 ounces ginger-lime simple syrup
•  Top with soda water
Garnish with fresh mint leaves.
Classic Vodka Collins
•  2 ounces Florida Cane Vodka
•  1 ounces simple syrup
•  1 ounces lemon juice
•  Top with soda water
Garnish with a lemon peel

During this visit, we also stopped into two of the four craft breweries that have surfaced in the last couple of years. Ancient City Taphouse is located next to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine and the two standouts were the Castillo Coconut Porter and Brazilian Pepper Tree Honey IPA.  Old Coast Ales is located a short walk or drive over the Matanzas River and we walked out with crowlers of Salt Run Gose and the Hopper 2.0 N.E. IPA. Both nice beach beers.  Another solid beer is the Dog Rose Brewing Co. Palace Pale Ale which I had with lunch at the A1A Ale Works Restaurant & Taproom where Dog Rose owner and brewer, Doug Murr, used to brew. And finally, Bog Brewing Company and City Gate Spirits will have to wait until our return visit to America's oldest city.

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