Thanks to a now multi-year-long cocktail boom that has occurred in bars and restaurants throughout San Diego County, it would be hard for anyone to have to suffer without an expertly crafted mixed drink for too long. The holiday season is the perfect opportunity to dig in, seeing as many bars and restaurants feature special creations that are tied to the holiday spirit, using local winter ingredients and featuring refreshing twists on classic cocktails. You’ve heard of the 12 Days of Christmas — well why not add a little extra “spirit” to them with these, all of which can only be found here in San Diego. By Jackie Bryant | Photography by James Tran & Olivia Beall
Envisioning Mille Fleurs’ cozy dining room is an ideal thought for the chillier months ahead. The iconic Rancho Santa Fe restaurant has gone one step further, creating the “Happy Holidaze,” a cocktail so cozy it acts as something of a boozy blanket. The drink combines Calvados brandy, High West double rye whiskey, fresh lemon juice, allspice Demerara simple syrup, and Angostura bitters. All the ingredients are added to a shaker, strained, and served over ice with a dehydrated apple slice dusted with allspice.
Mille Fleurs’ “Happy Holidaze”
¾ oz Calvados Brandy
¾ oz High West Double Rye Whiskey
¾ oz fresh lemon juice
¾ oz Allspice Demerara simple syrup (Recipe below)
3 dashes Angostura bitters
Add all ingredients to shaker. Shake and strain over ice. Garnish with dehydrated apple slice dusted with allspice.
Demerara Simple Syrup Recipe
¼ cup Demerara sugar
¼ cup water
2 tsp Allspice
Heat all ingredients in a small pot. Simmer until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool.
Hotel La Jolla’s Cusp Dining and Drinks provides much more than just a great view. This holiday season, the seasonally inspired restaurant has created the cheeky “Granny’s Secret Stash,” which is made with Eagle Rare bourbon, apple liqueur, bitters, and orange zest. Though its served in a glass at Cusp, it won’t take more than a sip or two for any drinker to wish they had a flask to sneak a few more sips from after all is said and done.
Visitors to the swanky L’Auberge Del Mar will be treated to four holiday cocktails this season: the “Chai Nog” with Rémy Martin XO and toasted marshmallows, the “Fig Manhattan” with Woodford Reserve bourbon, a “Peppermint White Russian,” and the “Cobbler Flip.” The Peppermint White Russian is just that — the classic libation with Kahlua, vodka, and a candy cane-sugared rim. The Cobbler Flip is a similarly sweet drink, mixed with Hennessy, egg white, and blackberries. Whatever one’s holiday dessert taste, L’Auberge has it all sweetly covered.
L’Auberge Del Mar’s “Peppermint White Russian”
¾ oz Kahlua
¾ oz vodka
¾ oz peppermint schnapps
Half & half
Pour Kahlua, vodka and peppermint schnapps into a candy cane sugared rim rocks glass filled with ice. Float with half & half.
Barkeep Dutch House of The Huntsman at The Inn Rancho Santa Fe is well known for his dedication to and obsession with the craft of making truly innovative cocktails. This year, House continues to live up to his reputation, concocting the interactive “Marshmallow & Me.” This charmer of a dessert cocktail mixes Maker’s Mark bourbon, allspice dram, muddled gingerbread cookie, and smoked marshmallow simple syrup. It’s served with a rim garnish made with gingerbread cookie and chocolate, and a cocktail garnish of smoked marshmallow, which guests will then roast over a tabletop fire.
The Huntsman’s “Marshmallow & Me”
2 oz Makers Mark
½ oz Allspice Dram
½ oz smoked marshmallow simple syrup (made in-house with diffuser)
Muddled gingerbread cookie
Rim garnish: ½ gingerbread cookie & chocolate
Cocktail garnish: Smoked marshmallow, which guests roast themselves over a tabletop fire
Beverage director Rosa Sulaymanov of La Jolla’s Red O taps into the Christmas spirit with the restaurant’s festively named “Merry Margarita,” “Horchata Colada,” and “Partridge in a Pear Tree” drinks. The latter is a comforting cocktail that uses Grey Goose pear vodka as a base, mixing in chamomile liqueur, cinnamon Tuaca liqueur (made with brandy, citrus and vanilla), agave syrup, lemon juice, egg whites, and orange bitters.
Red O’s “Partridge in a Pear Tree”
2 oz Grey Goose pear vodka
.25 oz Chamomile liquor
.25 cinnamon Tuaca
.50 oz agave
1 oz lemon juice
1 egg white
2 dashes orange bitters
Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake and strain in a coupe glass. Garnish with rosemary sprig.
Carlsbad’s Campfire has created a wintry cocktail so intensely sweet, savory, and satisfying at the same time that it could serve as a dessert replacement altogether. The “Little Miss Sunshine” is basically a holiday dinner strawberry cobbler in liquid form. It’s made with bourbon, strawberries, amontillado sherry, black sesame, and lemon. The cocktail’s sweeter elements, like bourbon and strawberry, are balanced out by nutty flavors characteristic of amontillado sherries and from the black sesame. The drink is brightened overall with a hit of acid from the lemon juice, lightening up this bonafide belly warmer of a libation.
Decadent and sweet are two words that immediately come to mind when thinking of holiday season drinks. After all, this season is one of excess, for better or worse, and one only lives once. To that point, Donovan’s Steak & Chop House in La Jolla is mixing the “Godiva Delight,” which is made with Godiva white chocolate liqueur, Tuaca liqueur, and Stoli vanilla vodka. The drink is shaken, like a martini, strained, and served chilled with a crushed biscotti adornment.
Donovan’s “Godiva Delight”
1¼ oz Godiva White
½ oz Tuaca
¾ oz Bailey’s
¾ oz Stoli Vanilla
Build on ice. Shake to a froth. Serve in a chilled 10 oz martini glass. Garnish with crushed biscotti. Keep in mind it’s all in how you shake it!
Located in Old Town, Tahona serves up Oaxacan-inspired cuisine and features more than 120 hand-selected kinds of mezcal. It’s only fitting, then, that the cocktail menu boasts selections perfectly suited for educating mezcal novices as well as delighting those well versed in Mexico’s iconic spirit. Consider the “Head Ancho,” which includes Metiche Salmiana mezcal, lemongrass infused vanilla, pineapple, Ancho Reyes Verde, lime, and serrano bitters, served in a highball glass.
No cocktail list in San Diego would be complete without flavors from Mexico. And no flavor profile from Mexico would be complete without the inclusion of corn, which is arguably the most important ingredient in Mexican cooking and drinking. Rompope is an egg nog-style drink served near Christmas made with egg yolks, milk, and nuts. La Jolla eatery Puesto’s punchy version, called “Rompope Oaxaqueña,” also includes roasted corn, cinnamon, and mezcal.
Puesto’s “Rompope Oaxaqenña”
Newcomer International Smoke, the globally-inspired barbecue restaurant from Michael Mina and Ayesha Curry, has become a local favorite right out of the gate for its varied menu and exciting cocktail list. One of the One Paseo restaurant’s winter selections, the aptly named “Winter Sangria,” turns the quintessential summer drink on its head with the inclusion of seasonal winter fruits.
Never a restaurant to be outdone by any competition, Addison presents a seasonal cocktail stunner that highlights the bounty of a California winter, including carrots, persimmons, and ginger. The labor-intensive “Kaki Fumé” mixes mezcal, a 50/50 persimmon and carrot juice mix, cinnamon-infused agave syrup, lime juice, a 50/50 purple carrot and hibiscus juice mix, egg whites, coconut soda, ginger juice, and mole bitters.
Addison’s “Kaki Fumé”
2 oz mezcal
1 oz persimmon/carrot juice (50/50 mix — ½ ounce of each)
.5 oz cinnamon-infused agave syrup (process: simmer agave syrup with cinnamon sticks, cool, then strain)
.75 oz lime juice
.5 oz ginger juice
2 dashes mole bitters
1 egg white
.5 oz purple carrot/hibiscus juice (50/50 mix — 1/4 ounce of each)
In a tin, shake the mezcal, persimmon/carrot juice, lime, agave, and bitters. Strain into a tin with egg white. Shake vigorously. Add coconut soda, starting with 2 oz (you may need more based on the glass size). Pour purple carrot/hibiscus juice into the base of a Collins glass. Pour the mixed cocktail over the top.
Little Italy’s Kettner Exchange, which celebrated a 2019 filled with accolades including being named as one of the Michelin Guide’s Bib Gourmand selections for San Diego, boasts a savory twist this holiday season. The “Dirty Verde” uses blanco tequila as a base mixed with Ancho Reyes Verde, cucumber juice, lime, simple syrup, cucumber ribbon, and drops of paprika oil, giving the drink a festive, Christmas-like red and green motif.
Photography by James Tran and Olivia Beall