By Jenna Jay
Snow or shine, December marks the time of year to get into the holiday spirit. Or spirits, for some.
Holiday shoppers and sightseers step into the city’s watering holes and eateries to escape the Christmastime bustle, feasting their palates on wintery concoctions to help recharge (batteries not included) after weekends spent hosting parties and socializing with in-laws.
Bartenders across the county are providing solace in the art of mixology this season, and it’s not just usual suspects like cinnamon, peppermint, chocolate and brandy that accompany the aromas of Fraser firs at establishments.
"It's a really creative time," said Lisa Redwine, manager and sommelier at The Shores Restaurant in La Jolla. "A lot of people are drinking less so they're drinking better. They'll spend a little more to have a really good quality cocktail."
At The Shores Restaurant, this means social gatherings come complete with cocktails made from traditional wintertime liquors, shaken or stirred with spice-infused simple syrups and served with inventive rims and garnishes. Take, for example, The Shores' popular Cranberry Cobbler, a vodka "milkshake" martini with an ice-cream base, Godiva caramel, and cinnamon-infused simple syrup rimmed with a graham cracker crust.
Nontraditional rims and garnishes are all the rage for drink specials this year, proving it's all about taste, but also about presentation. Iris Food and Spirits in Carmel Valley is right on cue, serving a rum drink, Cinnamon Spice and Everything Nice, with a sun-dried cranberry and cinnamon-sugar rim. Adapting to a trend that boasts old-fashioned drinks with a twist, Iris specialties like the Mint Chip Martini are increasingly popular crowd-pleasers.
While innovative additions spice up liquid warmers, traditional cocktails still reign supreme. "It's been really classic so far," Iris bartender Zac Cramer said. "[There are] a lot of dirty martinis and that sort of situation … not too many holiday things yet."
Drinks, such as the simple but classy Vodka Crème Brulee or Southern Comfort Manhattan at Manhattan of La Jolla in the Empress Hotel, also reiterate the emphasis on classic cocktails, signifying a trend in mixology.
Might weather play a factor in popular orders for patrons? It's hard to argue with beach days in December, though drink requests range across the spectrum for many establishments.
"People like to drink according to the weather," said Wade Johnson, bartender at Poseidon Restaurant in Del Mar. For Johnson and Poseidon, this means two versions of a Yuletide classic utilizing Baileys Irish Cream, chocolate and/or coffee in combinations that are popular items on the drink list — the warm Mint Baileys Coffee and cold Mint Baileys Chocolate Martini.
At En Fuego Cantina and Grill in Del Mar, bartender Austin Willms said he makes "just as many Mexican coffees in the winter as in the summer." However, requests for blended drinks are still sneaking into the bar, he said, and he occasionally takes orders for quintessential winter classics like eggnog and glogg.
San Diegans might not be brushing snow off wool jackets this New Year's, but we can still enjoy warming liquors and accompanying garnishes to help us toast the season. Regardless of temperature changes, we are poised for another SoCal winter — in chocolate liqueurs and peppermint schnapps, at least.