As more consumers place importance on knowing exactly where their food comes from, it shouldn’t be a surprise that they want the same knowledge about their tasty cocktails and drinks. In fact, the connection is a bit more…spirited.
Take St. Augustine Distillery in St. Augustine, Florida. Founded eight years ago, the company began with the mission to produce high-quality, handcrafted, small-batch spirits using as many local Florida ingredients as possible. They focus mainly on bourbon, but also produce gin, vodka and rum.
“We wanted to buy as much local Florida ag as we could. The mission was to make the best spirits as possible in Florida from Florida,” says Philip McDaniel, co-owner and CEO of St. Augustine Distillery. “We found out that Florida would be a great place to make bourbon because we can grow corn and wheat, and the environment we have – the heat – is great for that. We set out to be the first bourbon company in Florida and have made close to 3,000 barrels so far.”
Grain to Glass
In true grain-to-glass fashion, McDaniel says that the company’s relationship with local farmers is essential.
“Without local agriculture, we can’t make Florida bourbon,” he says. “If I wanted to buy corn from the Midwest, I could, but to me, that’s not a true local craft product.”
St. Augustine contributes back to the industry as well by donating all of its spent grains to a farm that uses it for cattle and hog feed.
“We try to include as much sustainability as possible into our business model,” McDaniel says.
Along with corn and wheat for bourbon, the distillery uses local sugarcane for its rum and Florida Cane Vodka, as well as local citrus, herbs and spices for its New World Gin. The distillery is housed in the historic Florida Power and Light Company Ice Plant, which was St. Augustine’s first power and ice complex, built in 1907. McDaniel loves the historical connection between the building and the distillery.
“A century ago, they were making the first block ice and here we are, 100 years later, making the first bourbons and gin in Florida,” he says.
Business is Booming
St. Augustine Distillery isn’t the only one taking advantage of Florida’s flourishing agriculture. The grain-to-glass movement is gaining speed.
“When we started, I think there were four distilleries in Florida,” McDaniel says. “Today, there are about 40 or 50.”
As one of the top five most visited distilleries in the country, St. Augustine values transparency with its customers, sharing the story of how products are made through tours.
“We are literally an open kitchen, and when you come to the tour, you’ll see the authenticity and smell the grains being cooked, watch the hand bottling and see barrels aging,” McDaniel says. “Nothing is hidden. We have between 400 and 500 people come through the building per day. It’s really a guest experience.”
McDaniel adds that at the end of the tour, they offer four sample cocktails and help educate consumers on how those cocktails were crafted and how they can enjoy them at home.
As for the future, McDaniel says he hopes St. Augustine can continue to grow and acquire different local partnerships. They currently work with San Sebastian Winery in St. Augustine to make port-finished bourbon by aging the bourbon in sherry casks that San Sebastian has used to make port wine. The distillery offers the winery its oak barrels in return.
“It’s a spectacular partnership between two local manufacturers,” McDaniel says.
Sit and Sip
Try a taste of Florida at one of these Florida distilleries:
St. Augustine Distillery
St. Augustine Distillery was founded eight years ago and uses local Florida corn, sugar cane and other products to make its spirits.