THE 80s, A CHALLENGING TIME FOR CRAFT
Thirty five years ago, America was entering an era of conspicuous consumption wherein we spent more money than ever before on luxury goods and services to publicly display economic power. Most families began the 80s without a lot of home equipment and ended it with a colour television and a home phone. In 1982, the Times magazine elected the first non-human “Man of the Year”, a computer. That same year, Coke introduced its famous recipe, Diet Coke. Soft drink consumption surpassed that of water for the first time in history. Meanwhile, in bars, sex-on-the-beach cocktails were becoming the new rage. At the time, it did not much matter where or how we produced our spirits.
Brandies were also a thing of the old continent. In general, no one would have betted on an artisan bringing the art of distilling locally produced fruits to California. Jörg Rupf, the founder of St. Georges Spirits, did what no one was expecting, and opened the first craft distillery since prohibition in the bear flag state.
EUROPEAN BRANDIES PRODUCED IN CALIFORNIA
Raised in the Black Forest area in Germany, Jörg Rupf put all his effort to bringing European methodologies of distilling to a state filled with quality orchards and farms. The St Georges brandies became the first spirits of a successful portfolio ranging from liqueurs to vodkas but also whiskeys and absinthe. Today the pear brandy requires 260 tonnes of pear that are shipped to the distillery as a whole. The entire fruits are processed so as to profit from all the qualities the pear has to offer. For the purpose of capturing a complex profile of aromas and flavours, the still is ran a single time. If pears are not your first go to, the house also produces raspberry and apple brandies.
LANCE WINTERS, THE CRAFT SPIRITS ADVOCATE
Fifteen years after the opening of the distillery, Lance Winters, a nuclear engineer and brewer, introduced himself to Jörg. As a proof of his motivation to join the distillery, the young man presented a bottle of homemade whiskey . He jumped on the bandwagon never looking back. In fact, he is today both the President and Master Distiller of the venture. His creativity and vision, are one of the driving forces of the innovative craft spirits that come to life in the distillery and that are sipped all over the world.
His involvement to the craft movement goes further than just the distillery. Especially as he was one of the founding member and first president of the California Artisanal Distillers Guild in 2012. The work of the Californian distiller association has helped to bring new legislations to the state such as the opening of tasting rooms in craft distilleries or direct sales of distilled spirits on site.
THE ST GEORGE ABSINTHE, A CRAZY CHALLENGE
At first Lance’s main focus was the production of whiskey. Today the team serving tastings at the forefront of the facility can reintroduce the visitors to spirits. From a Green Chile Vodka made with Californian-grown peppers, Serranos, lime and even some fresh cilantro to an all natural absinthe. The experience could not tell a more surprising success story. In fact, selling an absinthe after it was banned for 95 years in the United-States was a challenging move. It took the St Georges distillers ten years to create the perfect recipe of an absinthe. It finds its roots in an unaged brandy but then expresses its flavours through numerous botanicals contrasting each other into the perfect rhythm of warwood, mint, opal basil or lemon balm. The absinthe’s triumph was very quickly witnessed as their first batch in 2007 sold within four hours.
THE CRAFT PHILOSOPHY
After two former locations, the distillery established itself in the Alameda Naval Air Station in 2004. A boat ride away from downtown San Francisco, St Georges Spirits offers an amazing view of the city to all the visitors. The 65,000 square-foot airplane hangar provides with a lot of room the eighteen full time and ten part time employees to continue pioneering the craft spirits industry.
When asking about a definition for a craft distillery, most of the employees will tell you it is more of a philosophy than a factual definition. As new generations all over the world are looking for more identity and discovery in their drinks, Lance Winters agrees a shift in the market is taking place. From the beginning, St Georges Spirits looked at the supplying not only a local niche but an international audience. Today, their products can be found in thirty different states and eleven countries.
A FOREST IN YOUR GLASS
As the first Californian Craft Disitllery since prohibition, St Georges Spirits set grounds into the today booming industry of artisanal spirits. One of their core values is to offer a true experience through each tasting. Everyone should travel back to some memories. It leads Lance and his team in their research and development process for the next St Georges spirit. In fact, they believe everyone should have a different experience when sipping a spirit. Every drinkers’ way of tasting is aggregated with senses’ memories.
Their Terroir Gin , for instance, was inspired by Lance’s drives through the Californian forests when he would take his children to day camp in summer. Our tasting transported us back to the forests of the South West of France. Most of us will taste some piny notes on the noise and earthy aromas in the body. But each taster will travel back to their own sensory memories. We never thought we would ever get a forest in a glass but St Georges Spirits did it!