Stills have operated illegally in St Johns County since before prohibition, with corn mash readily available from Elkton and Hastings; and today, the latest still on Riberia Street opens to the public — but this time, the owner won’t be carted off to jail.
Risking a reported $3 million dollars that belonged to roughly two dozen investors, St Johns Cultural Council organizer and promoter Philip McDaniel opens St Augustine Distillery; gambling that people would rather pay him $28.00 for a bottle of vodka made in the city’s old ice plant, rather than cross the street and pay $12.99 at Broudy’s or ABC Liquors for a bottle flown in from Russia or Poland. It takes several years to age bourbon, so, for the time being, customers are going to have to quench their thirst for liquor with vodka — and, in a few weeks, possibly gin.
Now that “revenuers” get their tax on distilled spirits, it is no longer illegal for McDaniel and his reported 50 new employees to make it — however, it is still illegal for him to sell more than two-bottles-per-year to any one customer. According to published reports, McDaniel schmoozed both St Augustine state legislators, Ronald “Doc” Renuart of Ponte Vedra Beach and John Thrasher of St Augustine Beach, to change state laws to allow the distillery to operate in its current location on the fringe of Lincolnville.
In a published report that appeared in the Jacksonville Business Journal, reporter Ashley Gurbal Kritzer quotes McDaniel saying that his three-year-long dream was “realized” when a prominent local businessman told him that the project “made the nation’s oldest city cool”. McDaniel told reporters, “We wanted to do something extraordinary and put St Augustine on the map, for something different.”
The distillery offers tours and has a souvenir shop. So much for “different”. In the gift shop, you will find such treasures as martini shakers and flasks decked out in animal horn and bone, as well as ice molds and simple syrups.
“The Ice Plant has attracted two bartenders from South Florida and one from Orlando”, the Business Journal article concluded — apparently local people looking for work as bartenders aren’t as “cool” as people from south and central Florida.