Since its founding in 1982, St. George has developed a reputation as one of America’s pioneering craft distillers and actually produced the first commercially available American Absinthe back in 2007. Located inside a massive 65,000-square-foot WWII airplane hangar at the former Alameda Naval Air Station, its immense copper stills and wacky tours are straight out of a Jules Verne dream.
St. George Spirits combines Old World craft with New World innovation.
The views of S.F. from the distillery are amazing.
The distillery is considered one of the best in the country for absinthe and in December 2007, the company produced the first commercially available American Absinthe, St. George Absinthe Verte, since the lifting of the 1912 ban on making the spirit.
Hanging out in the distillery is an animatronic shark mold from the movie, Deep Blue Sea.
The Willy Wonka-esque stills were hand and custom made in Holstein, Germany – and no other distillery has them.
On the way to the hanger, there are many sites to see…
…including this beauty resting out in the bay.
Founder Jörg Rupf recognized the need to have a greater number of talented small distillers in this country, in order to create a critical mass or a movement.
Our tour guide was very informative and entertaining. His practical preventive hangover cure? A pint of water, two pieces of bread, a non-caffeinated multi-vitamin and a bottle of Pedialyte. Consume all after getting home safely and before hitting the hay.
Another refresher course lesson learned in advanced drinking on the tour was to not treat high proof spirits like you would wine. Stop swirling your high proof alcohol. You are warming it up, making the vapors expand on your taste buds so that it tastes hot. Brandy snifters are meant to heat the alcohol enough through the heat of your palm.
The ceiling is made entirely of Redwood and the floor is 17 inches of concrete. As a former naval base hangar, there’s a hatch with a tunnel…that’s ultimately been clogged up with a brick wall.
The distillers at St. George Spirits work in exceptionally small batches with beautiful copper pot stills. They watch the stills carefully and taste as they go. These techniques allow them to dispose of any pot that isn’t coming together perfectly rather than adding more ingredients to try and rescue a larger pot.
St. George Spirits claims that they use these techniques because their goal is to maximize flavor and aroma and not profits. But they have allowed them to maximize that too because of the reputation it has helped them to earn and maintain.
St. George Spirits is also known for the 10-liter test still that is kept on site and operated like a laboratory where experiments are always being conducted.
The distillers hope to come up with the next big thing by combining traditional ingredients with ones that are less conventional, like wasabi root, lobes of goose livers, candy cap mushrooms, and noble fir.
It took thirty-two tries for their Absinthe Verte label to get approved by the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. One of the main points of contention was that the original label had a monkey banging a bone on a skull. The skull “made too much reference to its hallucinogenic properties of absinthe” according to the TTB. St. George was going to refute this with many examples of skulls in spirits today (e.g. Crystal Head Vodka, for one), but TTB would’ve used that against those other distillers. Instead, St. George decided to stop the fight there and replace it with a Christopher-Walken-on-SNL-inspired cowbell.
Over the years, St. George has expanded its portfolio extensively, from yearly releases of single malt whiskey to the groundbreaking absinthe verte to some of the best gins anywhere: Botanivore Gin, Dry Rye Gin and an unparalleled tribute to Bay Area botanicals, Terroir Gin.
The label also makes a fantastically funky California Agricole Rum and a one-of-a-kind New Orleans-style coffee liqueur. Most recently, in keeping with St. George’s history as creator of the original Hangar One Vodkas (which is now Hangar 1 and was sold to Proximo Spirits in 2010), the company just released a line of St. George vodkas this spring, which notably includes citrus and green chile-flavored varieties.
This impressive breadth of products is due largely to the efforts of Winters, who has served as master distiller since 2010 after joining the company in 1996, and distiller/blender Dave Smith, who came on board in 2005
Their incisive, sharp sense of humor informs the spirit of the place just as much as their fearless innovation and honed palates inspire the range of offerings St. George produces.
Tours conclude in the tasting room with a guided tasting designed to help you learn how to approach and appreciate spirits. Each tasting includes a selection of six spirits—all made onsite! I only got through three of them. Not my thing, plus I had a long day ahead of me.
Tasting room & store.
While the product lineup has expanded greatly over St. George’s three decades in business, the company’s mission remains largely the same. “The vision today is informed by the vision of the early days with Jörg,” says Winters. “The focus is still on thoughtful selection of raw materials and shepherding them through fermentation and distillation to create a balanced spirit. That’s classic eau de vie philosophy.”
Distillery tours ($20) are an extraordinary way to learn about craft distillation and artisanal spirits. The whole experience will give you the chance to see where our spirits are made and understand exactly what goes into crafting what’s in your glass. Tours provide an overview of our production area, with the chance to view our stills, fermentation tanks, barrel storage, and bottling line.