You may be thinking: Is a distillery really worth the 1.5-hour drive from Orlando?
Situated just outside of the main tourist area in downtown St. Augustine, the St. Augustine Distillery was founded by 20 local families, and has since grown into an operation that produces rum, vodka, bourbon, and gin. Next door, the Ice Plant — Florida’s oldest ice complex — serves craft cocktails and small bites.
I’d recommend setting aside an afternoon to explore the distillery and enjoy pre-dinner drinks and appetizers at the Ice Plant bar. Here’s what to know before you go:
The St. Augustine Distillery joined the world of craft distilling in 2013. Since then, the founding families have collaborated with farmers throughout the state to source grains for their whiskey while supporting local agriculture.
Though it’s a smaller operation than other distilleries, it doesn’t source or blend other whiskey with its bourbon. All spirits are barreled and aged, then hand-bottled by real people.
To house the operation, the distillery team sought a building with both enough space and character. The Historic FP&L Ice Plant — St. Augustine’s first power and ice complex — offered both. A hundred years ago, it was the first of its kind to prepare a commercial block of ice in Florida. Now, it’s a space to hand-craft spirits and welcome travelers for a memorable drink.
When you enter the distillery, you’ll be welcomed by a kind man who will explain the self-guided tour. It begins in a room adorned with a brief history, including how the distillery transforms local agriculture into its spirits. As you travel through the historic building, you’ll be offered samples of four cocktails featuring the distillery’s rum, vodka, gin, and bourbon. Depending upon the day you visit, you may even be able to catch the team bottle and seal spirits by hand.
The end of the tour will leave you in the gift shop, which is no small operation. At the center lies a bar where you can sample more spirits before you buy. Here, I’d recommend asking to try the bourbon used in the “Fill-Your-Own” experience, if this is something you’re considering. For $150, you hand-pour, hand-label, and hand-seal your own bottle to take home. If you’d prefer a less expensive souvenir, there are t-shirts, mixers, spirits, and mixology supplies throughout the shop that make for great memories or gifts.
Once you’ve completed your distillery tour and shopping, head over to Ice Plant for cocktails. Designed to elicit an ambiance reminiscent of a 20th-century afternoon cocktail outing, the Ice Plant focuses on the art and craft of mixing cocktails with precise measurements for the perfect flavor profiles.
In keeping with the building’s history, the bartenders hand-cut ice from large blocks of slow-frozen filtered water to get “clear, hard ice, free of imperfections.” The first page of the menu details the ice process, including the distillery’s mission to “return to the craft of ice harvesting” so the “bartenders can make drinks colder and with precisely the desired amount of dilution.”
The “Signature Cocktails” portion of the menu features options that you’ll only find at the Ice Plant, including the “Night Moves,” a bourbon-based drink with Armagnac, China-China, Chareau, and both Angostura and passionfruit bitters. $13.
If you want something extra fun and photo-worthy, order an “Aku Aku Lapu” to share. This refreshing, flavor-packed punch is poured with whiterum, overproof rum, passionfruit, lime, pineapple, orgeat, and Angostura bitters. Not only is it refreshing — it’s served in a head-turning golden pineapple cup. $24.
If you’re hungry, Ice Plant also offers small plates and entrees, including house-made pimento cheese ($9), local shrimp ceviche ($14), the Ice Plant Burger ($17), and more. These dishes are prepared with a farm-to-table approach using grass-fed beef and local seafood. Vegetarian options are available as well.
Though the distillery isn’t your typical Bourbon-Trail experience, it’s well worth the drive to see the family-owned operation in action.