It all started, appropriately enough, at a bar.
My friend Grace and I were chomping on burgers and sipping cocktails when one of us said, “Wouldn’t it be fun to go out and sample a bunch of holiday drinks?”
A couple weeks later, I’d almost forgotten our conversation, but Grace hadn’t. She’d gone out to dinner and had asked a few restaurants about their specialty drink offerings.
She’d told some of her friends about it, too, and they were on board. That is how seven of us found ourselves at Taste in North Augusta at 6:15 p.m. on a Saturday night, our first of a five-stop holiday drink crawl.
As responsible adults, we planned ahead. With two husbands and five women, the guys lost out and were the designated drivers. Earlier that afternoon, Grace had texted me a photo of stacked, jewel-toned plastic shot glasses – our plan was to order a single drink and divvy it up so we could each have just a taste (and we’d each take turns paying). We started with dinner, too – and paused midway for a snack.
Grace’s friend Megan took charge when it came to the drinks – earlier in the week, she had called several restaurants and bars to find out their holiday drink specials. She also ordered for us at each stop – and with her big smile charmed a few more specials out of some of the bartenders. (Once they caught on to what we were doing, all the bars were glad to divvy up each drink for us into shot-size portions.)
Over the next five hours, we sampled 14 drinks among the seven of us.
Some stops we were in and out – at others, we lingered. At Crum’s for instance, Caroline ran into her parents and their friends – a boisterous group who cheered us on in our “foodie” drink quest and happily shared their cocktails.
We all had our favorites.
At Taste, Julie, Caroline, Grace and Megan raved about the Rockin’ Rudolph, a peppermint schnapps-infused eggnog; while my husband, Sean, and I preferred the sweet and cinnamon-y Butter Pecan Eggnog; and Brett had a minority vote for the Caramel Apple Martini.
Overall, the creamy drinks took the evening – with Whiskey Bar Kitchen’s Holiday Survival Kit getting high marks, and my personal favorite, the creamy and rich Peanut Butter Pie cocktail at Crum’s.
As the only outright bar on our crawl, Indian Queen – inside the old Gun Cabinet on Wrightsboro Road – was a perfect last stop, and our last drink left us on a high note: the spiked coffee, with a base of excellent coffee, a dollop of fresh whipped cream and just enough “spike” to give it a kick. There, we raised our glasses for a final “Merry Christmas!” – in honor of a new holiday tradition.
Call ahead to ensure drink specials are current. And remember to identify a designated driver (or two!). Note: All stops have food except for Indian Queen.
1. TASTE, 465 Railroad Ave. (Hammonds Ferry subdivision), North Augusta; (803) 341-9881, EatatTaste.com or find it on Facebook
The Atmosphere: The intimate restaurant features a small bar and indoor and outdoor seating. Eggnog drinks come in tall glasses.
• Butter Pecan Eggnog: Sweet and cinnamon-y
• Rockin’ Rudolph: Eggnog spiced with a mix of peppermint and the slightest kick of heat; an overall taste winner
• Caramel Apple Martini: This drink smelled deliciously of caramel and tasted like a sliced apple.
2. FROG HOLLOW TAVERN, 1282 Broad St.; (706) 364-6906, froghollowtavern.com or find it on Facebook
The Atmosphere: We tucked ourselves into a corner at this very full restaurant (even the bar seating was full of diners).
The Drink: Harvest Spiced Cider: A basic spiced drink with notes of vanilla and cinnamon
3. WHISKEY BAR KITCHEN, 1048 Broad St.; (706) 814-6159, whiskeybarkitchen.com or find it on Facebook
The Atmosphere: Casual and friendly, the restaurant features a long bar – and an equally long list of whiskies.
The Drink: Holiday Survival Kit: A combination of spicebox whiskey, Frangelico and half and half ape the taste of eggnog, with a delicious warmth from the whiskey and a rich spiciness; another taste winner
4. CRUM’S ON CENTRAL, 1855 Central Ave.; (706) 729-6969, crumsoncentral.com or find it on Facebook
The Atmosphere: A popular neighborhood hangout on the Hill, Crum’s has a bar, indoor and outdoor dining – and has recently updated its interior to create a more designed feel, with tree branch accents and framed orange panels.
• Peppermint White Russian: This popular cocktail gets an update with the addition of minty flavor.
• Peanut Butter Pie: A peanut-butter-flavored liquor – “and love,” said the bartender – is the secret to this creamy drink (my personal favorite).
• Crumvee: Ginger beer mingles with honey, strawberry and basil for a drink that tastes slightly like a throat lozenge.
• Wintertini: This pretty pink drink had us at honeysuckle vodka, but the overwhelming vote was that it was too, too sweet.
• Fudge Seckle: Some thought this drink smelled like a banana; others thought it had an inky, chemically scent. But the chocolate flavor didn’t come through as strongly as we might have anticipated.
5. INDIAN QUEEN, 2502 Wrightsboro Road; (706) 303-8723, theindianqueen.com or find it on Facebook
The Atmosphere: The bar is spacious, yet feels clubby and intimate with its crackling fire and brightly lit Christmas tree.
• Hot Apple Cider: After a long evening, our palates weren’t sure what to think of this warm drink, garnished with a cinnamon stick and a slice of clove-studded apple. But the final vote was that this would be a perfect drink to sip fireside.
• Loaded Hot Coco: Imagine your favorite cup of hot cocoa, doctored.
• Cool Hand Cuke: This cool, cucumber-based cocktail, flecked with freshly ground black pepper, wasn’t exactly “holiday” (although it did have a sprig of mint), but it would make a tasty spring drink.
• Spiked Coffee: The dollop of whipped cream magically melted into the rich coffee – making this a perfect last drink.