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St Augustine Distillery New World Gin

Written by Gin Foundry

St. Augustine Distillery is named for its hometown – a picturesque coastal city on the northeast coast of Florida that proudly declares itself to be the oldest in America.

The distillery was founded in 2010 and launched its first gin – New World Gin – in 2014. The spirit was designed with the city’s spirit of discovery in mind and aims to bridge the gap between traditional flavours and modern palates.

St. Augustine was founded by Philip McDaniel and Mike Diaz who spent three years and $3mn transforming a former ice plant building into a working distillery.

The distillery was built on the principle of providing a service to the community, explained Philip McDaniel, starting with restoring the ice house. “Our goal was to give back to the community by making an investment that would have an economic impact. It’s way cheaper to knock old building like these down, but bringing them back to life presents a good model of how to capitalise on the positives.”

True to their community spiritedness, St. Augustine has a form on its website for donation requests, with which they help to sponsor local non-profit organisations. This conscience stretches to the environment, too; the distillery encourages farmers to recycle used grains and has one of the country’s few zero-waste water reclamation distilling systems.

Alongside Head Distiller Brendan Wheatley, the team created a rum, a whiskey and a vodka before deciding to work on New World Gin. The idea struck in January 2014 and they commenced straight to lab testing before releasing the product six months later. The reasons for making gin were three fold: First, that it is a spirit that, if well made, can really stand out. Secondly, making a gin could make great use of local botanicals to create a product reflective of Florida, helping cement the distillery’s provenance. Third is because gin is used in more classic cocktails than any other spirit, so having it as part of the portfolio would allow St. Augustine to keep up with the ever growing craft cocktail trend.

With such logic, who could argue! Besides, more well made gin being released is never something to bicker over…

Wheatley instilled the help of his friend, Zach Lynch, head bartender of the Ice Plant Bar in St. Augustine. On bringing him on board, Wheatley said: “He had passion for gin and knew a lot about them. It’s, I think, unwise not to involve more than one person in the nosing and creation of products. You could have an off day, so having another person that’s agreeing or disagreeing makes a better product.”

Cocktails played a huge part in defining the flavour profile for their gin too; during test distillations, each blend of spirits was mixed into a G&T, a Negroni, a Martinez and a Gimlet to see how it held up. The gin was then tweaked and refined based on how it behaved in those environments.

Twelve botanicals form the eventual line up, though juniper, cassia, angelica, orris, star anise, lemons and oranges are the only ingredients that the distillery are willing to name, the rest are a closely guarded secret. The botanicals are ground in a hand-mill (because heat from an electric one could potentially damage the herbs) and placed directly into St. Augustine’s 60 gallon stainless steel still, along with their cane neutral spirit. There is no maceration period, so once the botanicals are in, the still goes on straight away.

Each run takes around eight hours and produces 300 bottles. Once off the still, the high proof spirit is blended with water to it’s bottling strength of 47% ABV. The process of adding water is surprisingly complex – water is added very slowly and according them, helps prevent the botanicals from falling out of suspension and louching.

New World Gin to taste…

There is an earthyness prominent on the nose, along with a dry sweet tone (presumably from the underlying base spirit). New World Gin smells almost floral and very citrusy – orange blossom could well be amongst the mystery botanicals. Juniper is certainly present and it provides a tether-like quality, letting the gin explore without ever deviating too far from the spirit’s traditional flavour areas.

Star anise discreetly takes the lead to taste, bringing a deep and rich sweetness which combines with the lemon and envelopes the tongue immediately. The sugar cane base is almost certain to contribute to this candied opening. The sweetness rides in alongside a burning heat – not from the spirit, but from the spicier botanicals. Only cassia and star anise have been named, but there’s a vague All Spice (or perhaps even grains of paradise) feel. Citrus fights its way through the otherwise dominant spices; orange is certainly there, but there’s a faint hint of grapefruit, too. The juniper doesn’t really ever take pride of place, but holds throughout and in particular on the finish, underpinning the whole thing with a fresh pine forest feel.

To that end, this is a great entry-level gin, yet one that gin lovers would also enjoy. We found it delicious in a Dry Martini. It’s alive with familiar flavours and has a welcoming sweetness. The juniper doesn’t overwhelm, rather it introduces itself politely. Mike Diaz agrees: “We currently get approximately 140,000 guests per year visiting our distillery. The most memorable part of the journey so far has been watching guests come into our tasting room announcing that they do NOT drink gin, taste our product in a proper cocktails, and walk out after purchasing the gin. We have been making gin converts daily.”

As boring as it may sound, in a G&T we’d serve with a wedge of lime. This would accentuate the more classic side of New World Gin’s flavour palate and support the citrus core. St. Augustine’s recommended serve is grapefruit, lime and star anise.

New World Gin’s packaging pays tributes to its hometown – the words ‘hand made in the nation’s oldest city’ are displayed between a vintage illustration of a farmer in an orange grove. A creamy yellow and burnt orange colour, along with greens, dominate the colour scheme, bringing with them a decidedly retro look. The clear, tall glass bottle restores the product to 2016 territory, doing a great job to represent the old-meets-new liquid within.

St. Augustine Distillery have not stopped at New World Gin – in July 2016 they released sweet vermouth barrel-aged editions of the gin, each designed to capture the essence of classic cocktails.

New World Gin is currently available in over 1000 Florida locations; distribution in Georgia, Savannah and Atlanta is starting to grow and spirit recently started making its way northward to Pennsylvania. Sadly, there’s no sign of availability in the UK yet, but there’s always room for a new American gin on the market, particularly one which pays such faithful homage to juniper while also making a progressive and clever twist to modernise it for a new audience. We’re hoping they seek UK distribution soon.


For more information about St. Augustine Distillery, visit their website: staugustinedistillery.com

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