St. George Spirits’ founder Jorg Rupf has taken more than a few adventurous turns on his path to becoming the first and one of America’s most respected artisan distillers. There were few signs in an early law career in his native Germany that he would later be fully immersed in the distiller’s arts half a world away. Perhaps the only clues can be found in the depth of his involvement with law-making and the precocity of his accomplishments. Jorg is a man who follows his passions far beyond simple satisfaction – his idea of fruition benefits both his own need to fully master an interest and our own fortunate palates.
Before the age of 30, Jorg had advanced from practicing as a lawyer to becoming Germany’s youngest constitutional law judge. An opportunity to probe the relationship between the arts and Government, led to an extended sabbatical in the late 1970s, wich brought him to the Bay Area. Here, under decidedly more hedonistic skies, Jorg revived his interest in playing the violin, something he still does. Taken with Berkeley’s growing gourmet revolution, Jorg also began to explore the possibilities of making eau-de-vie. Soon interest turned to engulfing passion; Jorg eventually left the law in favor of pursuing this more – literally and figuratively – spirit-driven quest to bring an old European culinary tradition to the US.
Jorg became a pioneer in a yet-unformed field. In 1982 he opened St. George Spirits, America’s first eau-de-vie distillery. To say St. George’s product is artisanal is an understatement; every step, from selecting the most flavorful fruit available to reducing the fruit to its most elegant essence is done with great care. Jorg worked hard at creating these critically acclaimed spirits, ever honing the quality of the quaff by refining his sources for local fruit and fine-tuning the fragrant delights exiting his still.
Along the way his work has garnered numerous industry awards and international spirit-crafting gold medals. His distillates laid the foundation of an artisanal spirits industry that has taken on major proportions as America’s gourmet palate advanced. In mentoring a fair number of distillers entering the field, as well as acting as “ghost distiller” for wineries that sought to make spirits with their product, Jorg came to be dubbed “Godfather of American Eau de Vie” by the Wine Spectator.
In 1995, Lance Winters, Jorg’s eager protégé and eventual partner, appeared at St. George’s door. Lance came to Jorg after a stint as a brewer and a limited foray into distilling. A lively apprenticeship ensued, and Lance came to make fine distillates guided by Jorg’s experienced hand. Between them they have expanded St. George’s repertoire to include fruit and flower-infused vodkas (under the Hangar One label), as well as whiskies, gins and rum, and, much to the delight of historical spirits lovers nationwide, Absinthe Vert. Lance is now running St. George Spirits, while Jorg is focusing on exploring new ways to perfect the distillation of the Agave, a quest, which he has wanted to pursue for many years.