When many people think of Florida, Orlando and Miami are the first cities that come to mind, but surprisingly, St. Augustine has a huge tourist population. I used to think that the only people who went to St. Augustine were Floridians, but after going there so much over the past few years, I’ve come to notice how many non-Florida and international tourists visit to experience the “Ancient City” vibe.
This summer, we gave our kids a few options for a vacation, and to my shock, they named destinations that I would have never expected…St. Augustine and Savannah. Considering that we’ll be in Savannah over Thanksgiving break, we settled on St. Augustine, and I’m so glad we did.
Aside from St. Augustine’s rich history, informative trolley rides, beautiful beaches, bustling downtown district, and quirky attractions, the city is quickly coming into its own as a foodie and craft beer haven. Needless to say, while we were in town, we were thrilled to visit with not one, but TWO phenomenal breweries…Old Coast Ales on Anastasia Island and BOTH of Ancient City Brewing‘s locations.
Old Coast Ales
Located halfway between the Bridge of Lions and the St. Augustine Lighthouse is Old Coast Ales, St. Augustine’s youngest brewery. We first discovered Old Coast during an adults-only getaway back in February, and shockingly, they were only a few weeks old and producing beer that tasted like they’d been fine-tuning their craft for years.
For our second trip to the brewery within a year, we weren’t sure what to expect. Would the beer be better than in February? Was our February tasting a fluke–only great because the brewery was so new? Would they have new beer?
Good News…the beer was just as good, if not better. Since there are relatively few people at breweries right at opening, we’re able to chat with bartenders and sometimes, get some behind the scenes info. This time was no different; we got there right when they opened. The kids found the foosball table and disappeared. We, on the other hand, proceeded to have a seat at the bar, order samples of everything on the board. Yes, that means each flight had 8-4oz pours. Yes, that means 16 beers between us. (Don’t judge.) We also were fortunate enough to have a bartender who happened to love beer as much as we do, and while that sounds typical for a craft brewery, you have no idea how many times we’ve been to breweries and “taprooms” where the staff knows nothing, can’t make recommendations, and some can’t even identify a style of beer from their own menu!!?!?
In a relatively small 7 barrel brew system, Old Coast Ales is producing everything from IPAs & Pales to Red & Brown Ales to Porters & small-batch Seasonal Brews, such as Goses, Berliners, and a “Kookaburra” Brown ale infused with locally roasted coffee. For a complete list of beer on tap, check out their Facebook page, which seems to be updated regularly.
Old Coast also serves another growing craft brewery staple, kombucha. Local Booch, also located in North East Florida, makes their kombucha from high quality organic fair trade black and green tea, yerba mate tea and Florida grown evaporated cane juice. Even though kombucha is fermented, the alcohol content is so low (typically .5 %) that it’s legal for kids to drink it, and some sources claim that kombucha can actually improve immunity.
All in all, I realize that if your visiting St. Augustine’s downtown area, you might not be able to walk across the Lion’s Bridge to check out Old Coast Ales. However, most people who come to St. Augustine will venture out to the Lighthouse, the Alligator Farm, and the beach, so while driving out to any of those destinations, swing in and have a pint…or eight! You won’t be disappointed.
Ancient City Brewing
During the same adults-only getaway in February, we heard about a brewery out past the outlet malls and the interstate, which seemed like an odd location, but we took a chance. It was worth the drive, and when we decided to go back to St. Augustine this summer, we knew that we would go back for another look-see!
After nabbing a Groupon for two flights and two souvenir glasses and torturing ourselves with an afternoon of back-to-school shopping with a teenager and an 8-year old, we headed over to Ancient City Brewing that was literally less than a mile away. Again, the kids found games to keep them busy and we enjoyed tasting what was on the board. Given their growing popularity in St. Augustine, many of their flagship beers can be found on-tap at various restaurants around town, so we like to aim for the brews that are distributed beyond the tasting room. All I can say, is if you ever get a chance to try their Castillo Coconut Porter, do it! It’s fabulous. I try to steer clear of dark beer in the summer, but this one wasn’t heavy and the coconut flavor is super mild and yummy.
Just before our second-in-a-year visit to St. Augustine, we got wind of Ancient City Brewing opening a taproom downtown. We weren’t sure of the grand opening date, but we were certain that we would check them out while we were in town. To our surprise, the grand opening was scheduled for the week we were in town!!!!
While the soft-opening, scheduled a day before the grand opening, didn’t happen, we were fortunate enough to be invited in a few minutes before the official opening and got one of the first pints poured in the new location. Interestingly, it’s not everyday that you have a pint with colonial soldiers, who were also thrilled to have this new taproom so close to the fort (Castillo de San Marcos).
It’s actually quite simple, if you find yourself looking for a vacation destination or merely an adults-only weekend away, consider St. Augustine. Yes, the history is great. Yes, it’s beautiful. Sure, you can ride around on trolleys and go to the beach and tour the fort and sip from the Fountain of Youth and stroll down George Street and gwak at the opulence of Henry Flagler and watch colonial re-enactments and most importantly, drink some incredible beer at not one, but two breweries.
However, the greatest recommendations I can make for visiting St. Augustine are as follows…
*Stay downtown. Yes, there are some very cheap hotels out around the interstate and outlet malls, BUT if you stay somewhere in the downtown corridor, you can walk everywhere and experience St. Augustine.
*Eat downtown. Forget the chain restaurants and fast food. There are so many locally owned, smaller restaurants that are serving up authentic and memorable meals.
*Drink local. It doesn’t matter if it’s a cup of coffee or a glass of beer. Drink what the locals are brewing.
*See it at night. Go downtown at least once after dark. Yes, it’s cooler, but when the sun goes down, the pirates come out, the gas lamps come on, the Lions Bridge shines, and the drinks get a bit sweeter.