The Spirit(s) of St. Pete

By Jackie Walling / Photography By Bob Thompson & Corey Riehle | June 01, 2015
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Spirit of St. Pete
The packaging of St. Petersburg Distillery’s Old St. Pete line shows off city pride.

ST. PETERSBURG DISTILLERY PAYS
HOMAGE TO THE CITY’S CREATIVE NATURE
WITH HIGH-QUALITY, CRAFT SPIRITS.

The building is simply marked: Just an address … no signage to indicate what’s inside the 30,000-square-foot warehouse in South St. Petersburg. Inside, it’s a bit like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory – complete with copper pot stills, tanks, vats, pipes and steam – but decidedly for adults.

This is the home of St. Petersburg Distillery.

CRAFTING QUALITY
 

“Our area has had a great craft beer movement; we felt it was time for local craft spirits,” says Daniel Undhammar, director of product development for the distillery.

It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. And Daniel is a perfect fit. Handpicked, in fact – along with other members of the 20-person team – for his industry experience and passion for quality.

And these guys are serious: Most liquor companies create one brand a year. St. Petersburg Distillery – privately owned by the lafrate family – has introduced nine in just seven months.

And the locally-based team isn’t just bottling liquor, but creating spirits they’d most want to drink, using hyper-distilled water for purity, and gathering organic ingredients – grains, spices, botanicals and citrus – as close to the source as possible. For example, the process for Tippler’s Orange Liqueur includes whole, Florida Temple oranges, peels and all.

The attention to detail goes from the distilling process all the way through packaging. You’ll find images of St. Petersburg’s shuffleboard courts, beaches, yacht club and downtown icons on the boxes, and vintage postcards (“Cheers from the Sunshine City!”) included in each one. Even the bottles’ barcodes are in the shape of the state of Florida.

“We want to preserve and pay homage, showing the pride we have for Florida and St. Petersburg,” Daniel explains.

copper pot still
The copper pot stills used for some spirits were fabricated in the 1930s.

spirit of st. pete
A sign at Mandarin Hide, one purveyor of the distillery’s spirits.

SCIENCE AND ART
 

Making spirits is a complicated, multi-stepped process. At St. Petersburg Distillery, an upstairs tasting room (currently used for private tastings, meetings and business-to-business events) gives a bird’s-eye view of that process. Down below, you see mash tanks for cooking the grains into a sugar liquid, fermentation tanks where the yeast eats the sugar, and stills that are heated to boil the liquid – called “wash” – and draw the vapors through a column into the condenser.

Once in the condenser, the vapors turn back into liquid that is drained into receiving barrels. This first run is similar in alcohol content to wine; additional runs through the distilling process increase the spirits’ proof, then botanicals and any other ingredients are added before aging and bottling.

spirit of st. pete

While the distilling process is always the same, the specific equipment differs depending on the desired results. For example, while some of St. Petersburg Distillery’s products are made in larger quantities and in more modern steel tanks, its Old St. Pete line is produced in small batches in 1930s-era copper pot stills, as was done centuries ago.

Especially with this more traditional approach, the art of distillation is knowing when to “cut” the liquid to get to the portion that has the right flavor, aroma, texture and density to be bottled.

Daniel explains that there are three parts to the distillate that comes out of the still: The liquid pulled through first is the “heads,” followed by the “hearts” (the part you want) and finishing with the “tails.” At St. Petersburg Distillery, they not only pride themselves on using “all the senses” to determine just when to make the cuts to produce the highest quality artisan spirits, but on redistilling both the heads and tails as part of their sustainable practices.

“We take our time. Everything we do has a human touch,” says Daniel.

St. Petersburg Distillery’s products are available locally at package stores, bars and restaurants. Visit stpetersburgdistillery.com for locations.

RECIPE
ST. PETE SUMMER
 

spirit of st. pete

LIQUID GOLD
 

Just four days after hitting the market, Old St. Pete Artisanal Vodka took home Double Gold and Best in Show for Vodka at the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America’s 72nd annual convention. And it wasn’t the only spirit to write home about: Well-respected industry professionals also awarded a Double Gold to Tippler’s Orange Liqueur for best fruit liqueur and Silver to Old St. Pete Sweet Corn Whiskey.

Also in the company’s lineup: Old St. Pete Righteous Rum & Spice and Tropical Gin, Oak & Palm spiced and coconut rums, and Banyan Reserve vodka.

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