Francisco Arroyo moved from Puerto Rico to Florida a decade ago, and for the past two years he has been growing sugar cane — not to sweeten your everyday coffee or occasional cake, but to produce rum.His buyer, St. Augustine Distillery, recently released its first bottles of rum, just in time for St. Augustine’s 450th-anniversary celebration over the Labor Day weekend.
Thousands are expected to visit the city founded in 1565 by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, which boasts the title of “The Oldest City in the U.S.” Even the king of Spain plans a visit to the city, which hosted his parents in 2001.The distillery, which opened in March 2014, is housed in a renovated, historic ice plant at 112 Riberia St., in downtown St. Augustine. Every day, visitors to the 8,000-square-foot facility can see what’s being produced and taste small-batch spirits at no charge.Upon arrival, visitors receive a card to punch in, just as was done in factories not long ago. The card can be kept as a souvenir of the visit. In a large living room, they hear the history of alcoholic-beverage production in Florida and can see tools and machinery used decades ago in the industry.A video tells of the people who have joined to create the distillery, including farmers such as Arroyo.Arroyo runs KYV Farm, an organic and non-GMO (not genetically modified organisms) farm in St. Johns County, which is providing alternatives for the community using farming methods with no chemicals, pesticides or fertilizers, according to its website.