A gem on Florida’s Emerald Coast, The Craft Bar provides some quality cocktails in a relaxed setting.
Overall Rating: 4
As a life-long Northeasterner and fortunate resident of one of the more sophisticated cocktail scenes in the US, it’s easy to look down at the bar scene in the Florida panhandle. This is an area, one imagines, that relies on its stunning azure beaches to attract tourists, not cultured cocktail hubs. Nevertheless, during my recent mini-vacation I efforted an intense internet search for the best local cocktail bar in the Destin area and found The Craft Bar, a quality establishment located in a strip mall.
Wait though, the nondescript location doesn’t tell the full story – the brick-walled watering hole is well-spaced and airy, with an outdoor seating area and open glass front. Upon entry, I was impressed by the array of liquors and cocktail paraphernalia that adorns the bar including copper mug after copper mug; any notion that this joint was some kitschy tourist trap was quickly dispelled by that liquid arsenal. All three of the bartenders that served me were superb and just exuded enthusiasm for cocktails!
Even as a committed anti-snob, it’s hard not to pick up Craft Bar’s cocktail list and expect a howling wasteland of “IT’S FLORIDA” ultra-fruity rum drinks. Ah don’t pay heed to such a stereotype: instead of schmalty tropical sippers, the Craft Bar features an impressive array of surprisingly sophisticated and fun cocktails, including two standouts. The bar makes stellar use of gin and fruit syrups, providing welcome counterpoints to those watered-down beach-side umbrella drinks. Not that I have anything against drinking cheaply at the beach 🙂
I started with one of Craft Bar’s old fashioned variants, the “High Country Old Fashioned” with Papa’s Pilar dark rum, High West craft whiskey, simple syrup, and orange bitters. A bracing and intriguingly buttered flavor, this was not a taste combination I customarily enjoy, but here I reveled in it. Just the right amount of sweetness with some nice velvet sugar at the end, good show. Up next was a standout, the “Scorched Earth” with Hendrick’s, house citrus, simple syrup, English cucumber, and torched rosemary. A sublime and full gin drink, this carries a considerable and balanced herbal kick spiced up a tad with the smoked rosemary. I loved how the sugar and citrus glance off the edges as you sip; such a nice and generous drink with beautiful herbal sensations, I loved this one.
Moving on, I sipped the “Le Michel” with Hendrick’s, suze (a root-based French bitter), St. Germain, house citrus, and simple syrup. An invigorating mouthful and a half, this big drink is heavily influenced by the citrus and suze, which combine for a perfect herbal hit. A large drinker fit for a warm Florida evening. Next was my favorite cocktail at the Craft Bar, the “Inna Pear Tree” with gin (the menu says Grey Goose but the barkeep recommended using gin, and I was all the richer for it), house citrus, soda, and fresh pear. This was refreshment personified, with a silky sweet pear hum that sings through the tantalizingly herbal mix. With zing off of the soda, all the botanicals and sweets collided exquisitely here, and I fell in love with this one.
Beauty came to the bar with the next cocktail, the luxurious “The Champ” with Tito’s, house simple syrup, strawberry, and an egg white. This drink is easy on the eyes and tongue: a soft, mild taste that is nicely measured and revolves around just the right amount of strawberry. Refreshing and subtly syrupy, the Champ delivers a nice even touch. Then the “Gold Rush” with bourbon, honey syrup, house citrus, and wildflower. Not bad, the Rush relies on a good honey and citrus burn that runs along the back of your mouth as you sip. A relaxing and nice sweet taste on the edge. Good.
Our finale was the “Nola Fashioned” with rye, house demarara, and peychaud’s and angostura bitters. This was a real rush, a true eye opener, with a bracing level of sugary sweetness but not overly syrupy, which was nice. An extremely resonant and rich taste that stays with you, the Nola doesn’t just rely on rye to power it. Instead, the rye is a nice accompaniment to that larger-than-life sugar cane and bitter taste – a complex and intriguing sensation that packs a true wallop. Nice way to end my cocktail tour on the panhandle!