St. Augustine Distillery Florida Double Cask Bourbon FAQs
Why is your bourbon 93.8 proof?
We were lucky to have Dave Pickerell, former Master Distiller for Maker’s Mark, work with our Distiller, Lucas Smith, on our first blends and barrel selection as well as one of the most important characteristics of our bourbon, the proof. Alcohol is simply a vehicle to deliver flavor. Therefore, for every spirit there is a perfect proof. The distilling team went through a process by which we proofed between 90 and 102 in incremental proofs [90, 91, 92, etc.]. We nosed, tasted and chose two consecutive proofs based on what our palate preferred. This was between 94 and 95. We then spread it out a bit below 94 and we went 93, 93.5, 94, 94.5 and all the way up. We literally kept spreading out the proofs and zooming in on what our palates preferred. We did this down to the tenths of a proof until we all agreed that 93.8 was the right proof for this spirit.
Why did you call this bourbon ‘Double Cask’?
We’re always going to do whatever is appropriate to shepherd our spirits to completion. For these early bourbon releases, one of the things we found was that the 25-gallon barrels that we started in extracted very quickly and got a lot of oak on them very quickly. In order to make the best spirit, we decided to take that bourbon out of the 25s and put it in some seasoned 53-gallon casks. That’s what defines double cask. It aged in two different barrels.
Will you continue to use 25-gallon barrels?
For us, the answer is no. Many, if not most, craft distillers start with 25-gallon or smaller barrels and they do that for one reason, because the smaller barrels extract quicker – allowing them to sell their product sooner. What we found, in our hot environment, was that 25-gallon barrels extract very quickly. We find that 53-gallon barrels extract appropriately for the Florida heat and humidity. Today, we are moving exclusively to 53s.
What kind of barrels did you age your bourbon in?
When we started the project, we committed to making the best bourbon possible, which includes using the highest quality barrels – no matter the cost. We believe quality in, quality out. We searched the country and found Kelvin Cooperage, a craft cooper in Louisville, Ky. and one of the finest and oldest in the industry. Like us, Kelvin is committed to producing the best product possible. Since more than 60 percent of a spirit is going to get its flavor from the wood, and we weren’t sure how our barrels would react to the heat and humidity of our environment, we decided to create a matrix. We used wood from three different states, two different size barrels and five different char profiles. Now that we understand more about our environment, we have refined our barrel selection including wood, toast and char profiles.
Why did you only age your bourbon for 16 months?
That 16-month age statement is a little bit of a misnomer. Current regulations require that the declared age on the bottle has to be the youngest spirit in the blend. Additionally, these regulations state that the age of the bourbon be how long it stayed in the first barrel. So while we have a blend of anywhere from 16- to 24-month bourbon, and because a small percentage of it is 16 months, that’s the age declaration that we have to use on the bottle. The challenge is that our bourbon appears to be much younger than it actually is. When you taste the spirit, you will see that the age is a non-issue.
Tell me about the difference between Florida’s environment versus that of Kentucky and/or Scotland and how it affects the bourbon’s aging process.
From all of the research we’ve done and all of the experts we’ve talked to, barrels basically impact and impart flavor at any temperature above 40 degrees. So anytime, day or night, that barrels go below 40 degrees, they go dormant. If you think about Scotland, the reason why those spirits oftentimes take 8, 10 or 14 years to fully mature is because it’s only warm in Scotland a few months a year. In Kentucky, it’s hot there maybe four or five months a year, so it takes 4 or 6 years for that bourbon to become ready. In Florida, our barrels never rest. We’re working 24-7 and those barrels are extracting the wood and the oak color much faster than in other parts of the world. We joke internally that our barrels “age in dog years.” The incredible heat and humidity of Florida compared to these other states and other countries also causes our Angel’s Share to be higher. That means that our bourbon costs more to produce because we have less yield. We have thirsty angels in Florida.
You aged your bourbon in ‘wine quality barrels.’ What does that mean?
When we started this business, we made a commitment to excellence, first. Bourbon is typically made in very inexpensive barrels because it’s a single-use barrel. We chose a different path. We chose to invest more money in our barrels using thicker staves because we felt that we could get a richer flavor and get more utilization out of those barrels later such as with our rum program. We’re using our barrels in ways that other craft distilleries haven’t even thought of yet.
Normally, in bourbon making, they’re going to take the oak wood, dry it and make a barrel out of it – all within a couple months. The problem with that is some of the green notes from that oak is still going to be in the wood and as that spirit leeches into the wood as part of the aging process, those notes are going to carry over and impart some flavors that aren’t necessarily the best. By taking a wine quality approach, we’re actually instructing our cooperage to take those staves and let them air dry anywhere from a year-and-a-half to three years. The green notes will naturally come out of the wood when it rains, when it’s hot in the summer, when it snows, etc. and it’s going to create a much better quality wood. That’s what wine quality barrels are and they are almost twice as expensive.
What is your bourbon’s mash bill?
Corn, barley and wheat in descending order, which is why we call it malted bourbon.
Why did you choose to make malted bourbon?
We actually enlisted Jake Norris, who was the founding distiller of Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey, to help us develop our recipe. First and foremost, we wanted to make an approachable bourbon. We felt like high rye bourbons were too spicy and much less approachable. High wheat bourbons weren’t as interesting to us. Obviously, corn has to be over 51 percent of the mash bill to be bourbon. The next highest percentage in our mash bill is malted barley.
Tell me more about where your grains are grown.
First, you have to understand our production philosophy. We use ingredients that are going to make the best spirit. Secondly, when we make that spirit, we use local ingredients to the extent that we can. Luckily, corn and wheat grown in Florida and the surrounding regions is really spectacular. Our corn is St. Johns County crop, when we can. Because of its seasonal nature, we often have to go outside of the county. Our wheat is the same. Barley is not grown in Florida and we weren’t going to let the tail wag the dog, so we go get the best malted barley we can.
How does St. Augustine’s maritime environment affect the bourbon?
In dryer climates, the Angel’s Share is actually going to pull more water out of the barrel and the proof is going to go up. The opposite happens here at sea level, so we have a high Angel’s Share and we are losing proof. It’s going in at 110 and we’re taking it out at around 108, so we’re getting less usable alcohol at the end of the day. It’s actually more expensive to make.