Expert mixologists on the First Coast are ready to make your vacation a festive foray. Whether you’re dining or just sipping and socializing, consider one of these extraordinary cocktail options with cool-weather flavors, ranging from fruit and cinnamon, pepper and herbs and chocolate and coffee.
A1A Cocktail Trail
New this year is the AIA Cocktail Trail, a program sponsored by the local VCB, the St. Augustine Distillery and the Florida Department of Citrus. Participating stops include North Beach Fish Camp, Ragtime Tavern Seafood & Grill, Hoptinger, Cap's on the Water, The Reef, Odd Birds, The Floridian and A1A Ale Works. Bartenders and mixologists were charged with creating a specialty cocktail using Florida citrus and spirits from St. Augustine Distillery. Get your passport stamped at all eight locations for a fun prize.
Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails
Town Center favorite Moxie serves chef Tom Gray’s high-concept American regional fare (the Dr. Pepper-braised short ribs are a must-try) and drinks spiked with fruit shrubs and flavored bitters. Mixologist Johnny Schaefer says he looks forward to creating the eatery’s festive, seasonal cocktails.
“It’s about making the drink more fun for everyone to try and enticing guests to enjoy something new and to step out of their comfort zones,” said Schaefer. The Chai + Rye, created for that first whiff of fall, features chai tea with cinnamon, cardamom and ginger, mixed with Bulleit Rye Whiskey, which Schaefer notes, has subtle hints of honey, vanilla and spice. Schaefer’s pick for winter, the Rise + Fall, includes Absolute Elyx Vodka, orange blossom liqueur, homemade cranberry shrub and fresh-squeezed lime and grapefruit juices.
“Its beautiful ruby color matches the season and it is a good foil for some of the heavier foods we eat during the holidays,” Schaefer said.
Chef Kenny Gilbert, known for his adventurous cuisine (gator ribs anyone?), and bartender Mark Rivenburg, launched the cool-weather cocktail menu at Gilbert’s polished southern diner with an homage to America’s favorite fall fruit. The Spicy Apple Orchard is “refreshing, crisp and clean with a hint of spice” said Gilbert, and includes Canadian whiskey, apple cider, allspice simple syrup, lemon juice, jalapeno slices and a splash of Angry Orchard beer.
Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen
In Fernandina Beach, Gilbert and Rivenburg team up again to create a festive cocktail to pique the taste buds (and prepare them for U.K.’s boldly flavored barbecued meats, smoked fish and curried veggies). The Dirty Canadian Ginger gives Canadian whiskey a sweet-and-hot kick with the addition of maple syrup, fresh ginger, ginger beer, lemon juice and a bit of egg white.
Restaurant Medure boasts numerous awards for its cuisine and storied wine collection, but bar manager Gabrielle Saul says there’s a loyal following for the restaurant’s ever-changing menu of craft cocktails. One drink that makes a recurring appearance during the winter months is the Solstice, a blend of bourbon, unfiltered apple juice, lemon juice, sparkling apple cider, black walnut bitters and a housemade Chinese five-spice syrup.
“It’s got fall spices, apples, and the Chinese spice blend gives it a wintery feel," said Saul. "We serve it on one large ice cube with grated cinnamon on top. It’s refreshing and bubbly. Everybody loves it.”
A Clockwork Orange includes vodka, lime juice, lemongrass syrup, ginger beer and muddled kumquats. Wheels of seasonal kumquats and candied lemongrass complete the drink.
Ocean 60 Restaurant
The Martini Room at Ocean 60 regularly wins accolades for its extensive cocktail menu. However, co-owner Mariela Groshell says the fall and winter holiday seasons bring out one of her favorite festive offerings.
“We serve a drink called 60’s Coquito,” said Groshell. “It’s a Latin-style eggnog made with coconut milk and rum. We strain it into a martini glass that has toasted coconut and cane sugar on the rim, then sprinkle a little cinnamon on top—so it’s extra delicious!”
For Another Round
For an ocean view and a historic perch, stop by the Penthouse Lounge at the Casa Marina Hotel in Jacksonville Beach for an Espresso Martini, with Van Gogh Double Espresso Vodka, Licor 43, Kahlua, Godiva Chocolate Liqueur and a splash of cream.
In San Marco, the M Lounge at Matthew’s Restaurant can bring a sweet close to a festive evening with the Midnight Kiss, a combination of Stoli Vanilla Vodka, Godiva Chocolate Liqueur, Disaronno, Rumchata and chocolate shavings.
In St. Augustine’s historic Old City, bring a wrap and sip spirits under the stars with a warm Spanish Coffee—coffee, coffee liqueur, 151 rum, and orange liqueur—at the Colonial Quarter’s Taberna del Caballo.
If none of those options suit your festive sensibilities, just wander down to Restaurant Orsay, Avondale’s French bistro, and order a Just Trust Me. Simply name your spirit du jour—bourbon, rye, rum, scotch, tequila, gin, vodka or mescal—and the staff will whip together something to suit your mood and the season.
And in downtown Jacksonville, the Candy Apple Café and Cocktails at Sweet Pete’s offers a fabulous drinkable dessert: the Bourbon S’Mores with chocolate-infused Four Roses Bourbon, Kahlua, Kerrygold Irish Cream Liqueur, demerara syrup, marshmallow fluff and a toasted marshmallow garnish.