Inside St. George’s Distillery

Posted on: Oct. 21, 2015 | | By: Liza Dunning

These days, St. George Spirits is known for a portfolio of twelve spirits, including gins (the Terroir being a cult favorite), fruit brandies and absinthe, the first of its kind to be commercially produced in the U.S. But it was eau de vie — a clear, double-distilled fruit brandy — that was first distilled in their 65-gallon copper Holstein thirty-three years ago, when Jörg Rupf first came over from Germany. Hailing from a family of distillers in the Black Forest, Rupf found himself inspired by California’s bountiful produce and raw materials. While eau de vie is no longer the distillery’s flagship product, its ethos of capturing the essence of fresh fruit still influences everything St. George creates.

The company’s Alameda Island distillery, in the eastern San Francisco Bay, now spans over 65,000 square feet, and its family of products currently encompass almost every spirits category. We took a peek inside the sprawling former plane hangar to see what goes on behind the scenes at this remarkable craft distillery.

At St. George, emotional support comes in the form of the pear brandy, gin, vodka, and other spirits made in their Alameda, California airplane hangar.

The distillery’s tasting room offers the full range of St. George products, from green chile vodka to pear liqueur to absinthe.

Though the distillery has been operating since 1982 (when its original founder Jörg Rupf came over from Germany to bring eau de vie to the U.S. market), a lot has changed in the last 33 years—like the 65,000-square-foot hangar the distillery now calls home.

All of St. George’s stills are named after Transformers—including the beloved copper Holstein, affectionately dubbed “Megatron.”

The team at St. George consider themselves “stewards of the raw material.” Among those materials pictured here: star anise, fennel, wormwood, stinging nettle, meadowsweet and hyssop.

It takes 30 pounds of organic Bartlett pears to create one bottle of St. George pear brandy, and each batch of brandy requires about 20 tons of pears.

When St. George was still a tiny operation and not using all of the space in the hangar, they let a Hollywood special effects company use some of the space as storage for movie props. In return, the company gave St. George a giant, old-school metal shark: the very one used to create the animatronic shark that actually killed Samuel L. Jackson in “Deep Blue Sea.”

Barrels are emblazoned with the distillery’s logo.

St. George’s gin comes in three varieties: Botanivore, a balanced and floral classic gin; Dry Rye, a malty gin started with rye; and Terroir, inspired by a hike on nearby Mt. Tamalpais, with notes of Douglas fir, coastal sage, fennel and nine other botanicals.

Though it all started three decades ago with eau-de-vie, St. George’s offerings now extend to vodka, brandy, liqueur and absinthe, plus a “California Agricole Rum” that uses regional Imperial Valley sugar cane.

A bartender in St. George’s tasting room mixes up a cocktail with the distillery’s California Citrus Vodka, made with Valencia oranges, Seville oranges, and bergamot. The raw materials are sourced from Lindcove Ranch, a family farm in California’s San Joaquin Valley.

An intricate mural featuring excerpts from both Mississippi state representative Noah S. Sweat’s infamous 1952 “whiskey speech,” and the lyrics to AC/DC’s “Have a Drink on Me.”

The distillery moved to its current location in 2004, right around the corner from Hangar One (which was founded by St. George in 2002 and sold in 2010).

In addition to the top-notch spirits, St. George also comes with a pretty fantastic view of the San Francisco skyline from their perch on Alameda Island.rn


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