Spirits in St. Augustine

Tiffany got the day off work and the three of us went back up to see a little more of Lincolnville, the historically black neighborhood in St. Augustine that was pivotal in the Civil Rights movement. Truly a city full of history, you can stand where important events occurred in the 1960s a few blocks away from sites that made an impact in the 1760s. We read a few signs around the neighborhood from the freedom trail, but honestly it was just nice to walk around María Sanchez Lake looking at the colorful houses and seeing wood storks and pelicans going about their day.

We visited the Distillery on the outskirts of the neighborhood because they gave a free tour, and we’re trying to keep things cheap. Our tour guide Laura was so passionate and energetic it was incredible, lauding the accomplishments of turning an old ice plant into the distillery using reclaimed materials, turning out high quality spirits, and doing so in as sustainably a way as possible. We saw the stills and condensers, the barreling and the bottling, gaining an education on liquor production, and learning how they source everything they can locally while forming relationships in their community. And then Laura started pouring, and though the portions were tiny, I’ll admit I had a little buzz going before lunch.

Their bourbon was very smooth, and I learned I liked the new world gin that took it easy on the juniper berries, but more so I was impressed by how impassioned everyone at the Distillery was about what they were doing. Preserving and restoring a historic building in their neighborhood, doing their best to improve the local economy and the global environment in the process. It often seems that there are ever fewer choices among ever larger companies, with less and less human connection between owner, labor, and consumer. It make’s a real difference when a place or product has heart to it.

We shopped small and supported local business in our own way by getting lunch at Mojo’s Tacos across the bay on Anastasia Island, which was tremendous. Then we went on down to Fort Mantanzas, another National Monument and the companion to the Castillo de San Marcos, guarding the inlet that serves as a backdoor to St Augustine. At least, it used to. Since the Spanish built it to keep the British, French, and buccaneers away, the channel has since moved out of sight as ocean currents, erosion, and hurricanes have reshaped the barrier islands.

The short ferry ride across the bay gave us a chance to spot a dolphin and gave us a grand view of the coquina fortress. As we docked, the park ranger gave us a brief history of the site. In closing he told how Calvin Coolidge declared the fort a national monument. “A lot of people think that means this belongs to the federal government, but that’s not right. This place, and the four hundred plus other national parks, belong to you. And they belong to your children.” What a day for passionate, people-power speeches.

Climbing a steep ladder through a narrow shaft gave access to the roof and a panoramic view of this island that was an acre when they built it and is now over 300. I asked after the flag that flies over the fortress and our eloquent guide explained it was a version of the flag of Burgundy and waxed on about European history and how things constantly change. Whether we’re talking about the borders of nations or the boundary between island and ocean, things don’t stay the same. We should be mindful of the place where we are, the food and drink we enjoy, the people we are with, because it will all be history one day.

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