drink 2017: cover story

The Sweeter the SPIRITS

“Don’t bother with churches, government buildings or city squares; if you want to know about a culture, spend a night in its bars.” — Ernest Hemingway

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Northeast Florida is unquestionably in the midst of a craft cocktail renaissance. Where once discriminating imbibers seeking something unique could find at best a mojito, margarita or old-fashioned, today there are nearly limitless exotic options that include such fanciful additions as housemade jalapeno simple syrup, angostura bitters, ginger liqueur and egg whites.

Candy Apple Café & Cocktails’ Bar Manager Shaun Gillespie agrees that it’s a good time to quaff. The 35-year-old native of Cape Town, South Africa, is himself a more simple man when it comes to drinking, however, telling Folio Weekly that Southern Comfort on the rocks is his pleasure. But don’t let that fool you into thinking his drinks are plain: Gillespie is a genius mixologist who delights in using all the tools at his disposal which, in his case, include the many confectionary delights of Sweet Pete’s.

“I love it,” he said, “being that we’re in a candy store, it gives us a chance to play around with candy and cocktails.” Accordingly, the craft candy cocktail menu at Candy Apple includes such delightful embellishments as swizzle sticks, sea salt caramels, sour watermelon gummies and, for ’80s kids, pop rocks.

If sweets aren’t your thing and you can’t find anything that suits your palate or mood on the menu, don’t be afraid to ask for an off-menu recommendation—depending on how busy the bar is, of course. “If you don’t like my drink menu, let me see if I can create something for you,” Gillespie said.

After 18 years in the restaurant business, eight behind the bar, including three at Candy Apple—“since Day One,” he said with pride—some might expect that Gillespie would have grown weary of talking to strangers. Not so. Gillespie didn’t hesitate when a reporter asked what he likes about the job. “Honestly, just the interaction with the guests … just being able to connect through cocktails,” he said, grinning.

The husband and father who relocated to the area five years ago has witnessed firsthand the evolution of the cocktail in Northeast Florida. Asked what he thinks of the creative cocktail revolution presently gripping the region, Gillespie grew contemplative. “It opens up the world to know alcohol on a different level,” he said thoughtfully, after a moment. “It’s mind-blowing; the possibilities are endless.”

For our interview, Gillespie whipped up a spectacular holiday special, the White Chocolate Peppermint Martini. Watching him as he carefully dipped the rim of the glass in marshmallow fluff—yes, marshmallow fluff—then followed that with crushed candy cane, one might fantasize of a day spent in a Willy Wonka theme park for adults. One imagines that picnicking alongside a chocolatini river, perhaps snacking on rum-soaked, chocolate-covered cherries or sipping on a warhead-infused Moscow Mule with a strawberry Twizzler straw would be a delightful way to pass the afternoon. Disney probably won’t be adding Willy Wonkaland or Cocktail Kingdom to its theme park offerings any time soon, though. Luckily, we have we have the next best thing: Candy Apple Café. Ask for Shaun.
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LOCAL COCKTAIL CURATORS

CANDY APPLE CAFÉ & COCKTAILS
400 N. Hogan St., Downtown, 353-9717, candyapplecafeandcocktails.com

THE VOLSTEAD
115 W. Adams St., Downtown, 414-3171, thevolsteadjax.com

DOS GATOS
123 E. Forsyth St., Downtown, 354-0666, dosgatosjax.com

HOBNOB
220 Riverside Ave., Ste. 110, 513-4272, hobnobwithus.com

LOCALS’ COCKTAIL LOUNGE
869 Sadler Rd., Fernandina, 775-5943

SIDECAR
1406 Hendricks Ave., Southbank, 527-8990, drinksidecar.com

THE GRAPE & GRAIN EXCHANGE
2000 San Marco Blvd., San Marco, 396-4455, grapeandgrainexchange.com

GREEN TURTLE TAVERN
14 S. Third St., Fernandina, 321-2324, greenturtletavern.com

THE ICE PLANT BAR
110 Riberia St., St. Augustine, 829-6553, iceplantbar.com

ODD BIRDS BAR
33 Charlotte St., St. Augustine, 679-4933, oddbirdsbar.com

MOXIE KITCHEN + COCKTAILS
4972 Big Island Dr., Southside, 998-9744, moxiefl.com

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DRINK 2017 STORIES

BEER: SAND, SALT & SUDS
story by Marc Wisdom

WINE: BOTTLED POETRY
story by Claire Goforth

COCKTAILS: THE SWEETER THE SPIRITS
story by Claire Goforth

MEAD: SO THICK AND SO SWEET
story by Marc Wisdom

KOMBUCHA: BOOCH, PLEASE
story by Brentley Stead

Photography by Madison Gross

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