In early September, I met up with a group from our Marketing Department in St. Pete to take a tour (and tasting, of course) of the newly founded St. Petersburg Distillery. Now, I don’t claim to be much of a spirits guru, but I happened to be in the area and thought perhaps I could use the education. I can really use the education.
We met up with the sales director and a few of the fellas from RNDC, the distributor for these items. Tucked away in an unmarked, rather large facility on the industrial side of St. Pete, we found the guys waiting for us and were whisked away on a quick tour of exactly what they do. In one large area, the entire distilling operation is housed, crowded with stainless steel tanks, copper pot stills and just a few employees looking just like the folks you see in a winery. Hoses here and there, stuff going on and spirits being made… but I need to say, not the large scale production of many refineries/distilleries whose names you have probably heard of many times. Here everything is done on a decidedly small scale. Using their words… “a signature line of small-batch, pot distilled spirits,” and when they say small, believe it; they were manipulating a batch of brandy as we watched, and I can assure you the entire batch might make a good display in one of our larger locations!
So what are they creating here in downtown St. Pete? Well, a little of a lot of things, as it turns out, and they allowed us to taste through each of the items they produce for retail/on-premise. On a side note, they custom make many, many other items for the private label business, as the St. Pete Distillery label accounts for only a small fraction of what takes place in the facility. We sampled methodically, tutored as we did, through the entire line of handcrafted pot-still spirits. And I have to tell you, every one of these products were well done, offering complexity and depth of flavors, while maintaining a quality of uniqueness that only comes from being handmade with the finest ingredients. We tried the gin, vodka, whiskey and spiced rum, all under the ‘Old St. Pete’ label. We then went on to the specialties of the house – Banyan Reserve Vodka, Oak & Palm Spiced Rum, Tippler’s Orange Liqueur and finally Royal Mead, which is an intensely flavored wine of fermented honey. Of course, the honey is local, as are the oranges for the Tippler’s, and so is pretty much everything else that is unloaded into the place. They really do ‘think locally,’ and it shows in the quality of each spirit they craft.
I did mention I am not much of a spirit drinker, but that does not exclude me from being able to know when something is well-crafted! The smell of bourbon is going to take me a lot of getting used to, but last week I tried the Pappy Van Winkle 12 year, and even though I know it is not for me, I can tell it’s filled with quality, depth, complexity, richness and finesse; you just know it, even if you don’t love it you know it’s good. It’s the very same at St. Pete Distillery. Each spirit is aromatic, lively and has a sense of purity. Smell vodka, no big deal, but then stick your nose in the St. Pete artisanal vodka and you will see. We all sat down for lunch, along with a rum drink that would have required a nap if I would have consumed it. Great group of people, wonderful products and great local flavor!
Shayne Hebert, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits wine and spirits supervisor
Follow me on twitter @abcwineShayne