Drinking Our Way Through the Ancient City of St. Augustine

20160206_104612St. Augustine is known as the oldest city in the “New World,” with roots dating back to 1565. Sadly though, St. Augustine didn’t come into the modern age of craft beer and spirits until the 21st century.  Some might say that the city is a little slow.  I like to think that they took their time to get it right. 

I’ve been visiting St. Augustine since I was in high school, and back then, the most exciting thing to do was visit the fort and Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum. Now, in addition to the old standards of historic sites and cheesey museums, St. Augustine boasts a diverse culinary scene, including breweries and a craft distillery.

After visiting so much during high school, I didn’t give much thought to the city as a place I’d like to frequent until a couple of years ago, when my husband took me there for a weekend get away.  The city had changed so much from what I remembered.  We took a chocolate tour, visiting area chocolatiers and gourmet restaurants preparing new & inventive chocolate entrees.  We walked the historic “old town” district.  We took horse-drawn carriage rides.  We sat in quaint historic bars chatting with the owners.  We even took a ghost tour.  No, this was not the city I remember from family reunion weekends.  This was now a city that I could see myself visiting regularly.

And that’s just what we’ve done.  We’ve taken our kids to St. Augustine and done the cheesey museums, but we’ve also taken them to the historic sites and horse-drawn carriage rides. We’ve rented renovated & restored old cottages and roamed the streets in the rain.  We love St. Augustine.

However, the greatest advancement St. Augustine has made in the past 30 years is it’s introduction of craft beer and liquor to it’s tourism. With the boom of craft beer in Florida in the early 2000s, St. Augustine was a bit slow to get it’s own brewery.  Now, they have two with St. Augustine addresses and many more in neighboring Jacksonville.

A1A Aleworks is more of a brewpub, but they are making their own beer, and it’s pretty tasty. Brewing a variety of always on tap beers, as well as a selection of special brews, A1A seems to gather quite a following.  I guess it doesn’t hurt that their food is great.  Crab BLTs and a bowl of lobster bisque is not the usual brewpub fare, and that’s just the way I like it!

Ancient City Brewing, although a little hard to find, is the more common brewery that Floridians expect…warehouse in an industrial park with a loading bay full of tanks and kegs. However, as challenging as it was to find (not within walking distance of the downtown area), it’s well worth the drive, and judging by the number of people at the brewery, it seems like everyone else agrees. Even as a relatively young brewery, they are doing it right.  Some young breweries tend to have a few core beers and they dabble in flavors, but Ancient City seems to have a variety that compares to breweries that have been in business a while.  From IPAs and Kolsches to my favorite, the Coconut Porter, ACB is a huge addition to St. Augustine tourism.

The greatest addition (in my opinion) to the St. Augustine tourism picture has been staugustinedistillery.com/.  When it opened in 2014, The Distillery was the first craft (small batch) distillery producing liquor in Northeast Florida since Prohibition.  At almost 2 years old, The Distillery makes vodka, rum, gin, and bourbon (to be opened in fall 2016).  In addition to a free tour and history of the old ice plant, where The Distillery operates, guests are treated to complimentary cocktails and samplings…WIN-WIN!

As frequent travelers, my husband and I usually search out cities with lots of history and a rich culinary & beverage culture.  For us, the fact that St. Augustine, now, has all of those things and is only 3 hours from home, makes it a prime weekend destination!

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