We love all things Florida and tend to gravitate toward locally owned businesses both at home and when we travel throughout our state. What speaks to us first and foremost, is a good product, followed by passion and professionalism. When we promote a business on our blog it is because we have witnessed those elements first hand.
During a recent trip to St. Augustine, Florida (we wrote about that here) we found not one, but two impressive businesses that reflect the standards we hold in high regard. It happens that they are located in the same building and promote the same product – handcrafted spirits.
The St. Augustine Distillery is located in an ice plant originally built in the early 1900’s. When co-founders Phillip McDaniel and Mike Diaz found this unique building to house their venture, it was in great need of attention. You can read the full story on their website, but to summarize into a very short version; they jumped through a lot of hoops to create their business and operate it from this historic site.
One significant obstacle they had to overcome was to have a restaurant and bar in the same location as the distillery. My very loose interpretation of that predicament is that the law prohibits a distillery from selling bar drinks, so the founders persuaded the county to divide the building into two addresses. The result is that the upstairs bar and restaurant, The Ice Plant Bar, is separately owned and operated. No doubt, many of the spirits that the bar serves are purchased from the distillery. Even though there is “technically” no legal connection, it is obvious that the same standards of excellence are applied in both establishments. The signature cocktails served in our tastings downstairs were created by the talented mixologists from the Ice Plant Bar.
The Distillery offers tours and tastings at no charge and has specific hours of operation listed on their website. We hopped off Ripley’s Red Train Trolley and caught the first available tour, which was about ten minutes later. Our tour guide greeted us with a time card, reminiscent of the punch kind we used at our stationery engraving business nearly twenty years ago. The bottom half is used for collecting email addresses, if you are inclined to share. It was the first of many authentic relics used to meticulously present a museum quality experience.
Our tour guide, Laura, relayed the history of the building, the business and the process of distilling spirits with unabashed enthusiasm. More than once she mentioned “my neighborhood,” referring to historic Lincolnville, which is where the former FPL ice plant, now distillery is located. You get the feeling that she is as vested in the success of the business as any owner would be. Our first impression was simply, “wow” and it continued upward from there.
After a very educational tour of the facility, Laura brought the group into the tasting room and mixed two cocktails. Using the distilleries craft vodka and a mix that is bottled and sold by the distillery she created their version of a Moscow Mule. Called the Florida Mule, it is a combination of vodka, ginger, lime, soda and mint. The cocktail is beautifully presented in a copper mug. Our tastings were served in small plastic shot cups.
In addition to the Florida Mule, we also tasted a Rum Tiki, a New World Gin & Tonic and a Double Cask Old Fashioned. The later two drinks were presented at the distillery’s gift shop tasting table.
Individual tastings of rum, vodka, gin and bourbon were available by request.
Laura, entertaining the crowd. That bag under her raised mallet contains ice. If you are awake (and you will be if Laura is your guide) you will learn in less than five minutes that ICE plays a huge role in creating the perfect cocktail.
The tour ends in the gift shop, with beautiful displays of the distillery’s products and gift items. And yes, the mallet and ice bag are available for purchase. Prices for the liquor are not cheap, but remember, this is a small batch production distillery.
The tour and tastings are just the beginning; go upstairs to the Ice Plant Bar and continue the experience.
We discovered craft cocktails in Lisbon, Portugal a while back, and realized then that there is an art (and maybe a bit of science) involved in making the perfect cocktail. Any bartender can pour a drink, but a mixologist creates a culinary experience in a glass. That is what we found upstairs at the Ice Plant Bar – passionate people creating the best possible experience for their guests.
Meet Bobby; never to be confused with an average bartender. Concentration, passion and meticulous attention to detail go into every drink he makes. We should know, we watched him make a few.
On this particular afternoon, he mixed a Mezcal Sour, his original potion, and offered it to us. Delicious! I lost track of the ingredients, so when you visit, ask him to make one for you. By then, it will probably be on the menu.
As I said before, ICE plays a big role in every drink made at the Ice Plant Bar. A classic Double Cask Old Fashioned is the perfect example. We were spoiled at first sight.
You cannot tell from the photo, but there is an embossed emblem on the top of the large ice cube – nice touch! The concept, of course, is that the large cube of ice melts slowly, therefore maintaining the integrity of the Bourbon for as long as possible.
Excellent ingredients blended together with precision and flair are a big part of the craft cocktail movement, but presentation is just as important. Remember, this is not your average bar, it is showcasing locally made small batch spirits that are one of a kind in the Florida market. And, just like the museum quality experience of the distillery below, they aim to delight the senses.
From the fresh sprig of mint to the condensation on the copper mug, this presentation is perfection! Thanks everyone for a delightful experience. You were an unexpected highlight on our historical St. Augustine tour.
St. Augustine Distillery 112 Riberia Street, St. Augustine, Florida Distillery Website
The Ice Plant Bar 110 Riberia Street, St. Augustine Florida Ice Plant Bar Website
No compensation was received for our opinion.