If you’re looking for a fun spot in historic San Marco, let me suggest Grape and Grain Exchange this quintessential neighborhood bar has it all. Along with the bar, a package store that offers rows and rows of some of the top-notch well know and challenging to find spirits available, live music and a back room that harks back to speakeasy days. I was my good fortune to have time to sit with Nick Hogan one of a hand full of top-notch barkeeps that set Grape and Grain Exchange apart from the others.
Tell us about yourself and the journey.
I grew up here in Jacksonville, attended Florida State, moved to Gainesville then on to Colorado to work in the mountains for a bit. Then back to Florida in St Augustine where I discovered bartending. I started working at Odd Birds, where I fell in love with the craft; the history of spirits, the dedication to the art and detail to craft bartending. I want to take it as far as I can, and that’s where I am today.
How long have you been tending bar?
Just a little over three years now, I am relatively new to the game, and I’m really into it.
What was your first bartending job?
I started at Odd Birds and Hoptinger in St. Augustine. I was working both, but Odd Birds opened my eyes to traditional bartending. My obsessiveness led me to read books on traditional bartending, and I have fallen in love with it.
What turns you on about bartending?
I think it’s a creative outlet for me, like coming up with conceptual cocktails where I like to put a story behind them.
How do you feel about the term “Mixologist”? Do you consider yourself one?
I think it’s an outdated term that most people don’t like. I don’t care about labels so you can call me whatever you want.
What do you enjoy most about Grape and Grain Exchange?
Grape and Grain has been a wonderful learning experience for me as far as the package side we have an opportunity to do everything here. We have a robust wine program, as you see the spirits you can tell inventory is enormous. Grape and Grain Exchange is a well-rounded bar, with a neighborhood that is quite supportive. Plus the family here is incredible; I love all these guys.
What were you going for when you created the cocktail list?
The bar manager will take the lead, but it is a very collaborative event. We have several brainstorming meetings the first is casual asking questions about what we are playing with or what we would like to do. We will then pick our chosen spirit, keeping in mind of what is seasonal and work it from there. We then pick techniques that are currently on the forefront; then we elevate the experience.
What are your favorite cocktails to make, and why?
Most craft bartenders will point people toward classics, and they are classics for a reason; they have been around forever. My go-to cocktail is the Boulevardier with three ingredients; equal parts Whiskey, Campari for bitterness and Sweet Vermouth for sweetness.
For you what spirit is the most versatile?
I don’t think there is one spirit that is more versatile. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, for me, that’s the beauty of it.
What do you think sets your drinks apart from the others?
I think we can all make the same drinks, but often it the experience of the customer that makes the difference. I place my focus on events and the experience of the event. I always want someone to take something memorable away after drinking one of my cocktails.
If I asked you to make me a cocktail with no limitations, what pops into your head?
My go to that works with just about any spirit is a Jungle Bird a Tiki cocktail that was the first Tiki cocktail to include a bitter aspect. It combines everything, tart, bitter, sweet, and spirit. I feel it hits every flavor aspect and does something on the tongue.
So this time in place of the standard cocktail with the recipe we chose one of the pre-bottled cocktails done in house. This particular drink was a collaboration with Bold Bean Coffee using their cold brew and served with a salted caramel truffle. It was astounding
The cocktail called Strange Brew is a combination of the following;
Angel’s Envy Bourbon, Plantation Dark Rum, Plantation OFTD ( over proofed rum), Averna, Amaro 14, Bold Bean Cold Brew, Mexican Coke, Reduction 18.21 Cola Bitters.