Merry Mixology: Your guide to holiday drinks, seasonal libations and Christmas cocktails in La Jolla/San Diego

Some of the holiday drinks available at The Marine Room in La Jolla include the PB Old Fashioned, Holiday Sparkler, and Warm Gingered Apple.
(Photo by Elisabeth Frausto)

As happy hour gatherings, celebrations with friends, and work festivities become centered on the holidays, various lounges and restaurants are offering seasonal beverages designed to elevate holiday routines. La Jolla menus reveal some clever and creative potions for anyone seeking to add more sparkle to their sips.

Atop the Hotel La Jolla, Cusp Dining & Drinks is serving two cocktails along with their wide ocean views. The Killer Royal, a bright red-hued drink served in a chilled Nick and Nora glass features vodka, blackberry liqueur, and freshly squeezed lemon juice shaken and topped with prosecco. Bartender Melissa Benin garnishes the drink with a lemon peel and notes that Cusp’s drinks always try to incorporate seasonal, high-quality ingredients like their homemade syrups.

“People absolutely love the drinks,” she said. “They come back for them and bring others” as well. Benin’s colleague Juan Mora presented his creation, the Granny’s Secret Stash. “The perfect fall drink,” according to Mora, is his riff on an Old Fashioned, mixed with Apple Pie liqueur for sweetness and served on the rocks.

Farther into La Jolla Shores, at Piatti on Avenida de la Playa, bartender Michael Erbs is replaying his 2018 holiday entry, the Autumn Rye. Muddling fresh rosemary with orange rind and shaking it with organic maple syrup, Templeton Rye whiskey and orange bitters, Erbs serves up a drink he calls “warm and cozy,” something he created to “complement the Shores.”

Piatti manager and bar program director Dustin Regan, calling on his East Coast roots, created a hot apple cider cocktail, mingling brandy-flavored tuaca liqueur and salted caramel vodka with steamed apple cider. For Regan, keeping the holidays “fresh” with special beverage offerings is important. Considering Piatti is constantly reinventing its menu, Regan likes the bar to “keep up with its kitchen,” ensuring the regular customers and others have something new to look forward to.

For beachfront beverages, The Marine Room in La Jolla is offering three seasonal pours: the Holiday Sparkler, a tincture of prosecco and pomegranate liqueur over fresh pomegranate seeds, the Warm Gingered Apple, which mixes ginger liqueur and ginger rum with warm apple cider and is garnished with an apple wheel and candied ginger, and the PB Old Fashioned. (Pictured at the top of this article)

Manager Travis LeGrand co-created the PB Old Fashioned using chocolate bitters, rye whiskey, and Skrewball whiskey, a newer, local spirit infused with natural peanut butter. LeGrand prefers to feature local liqueurs whenever possible, taking a “culinary approach” to craft cocktails that “people remember and come back for.” In colder seasons, he features whiskey prominently. “It warms you up,” he says, adding that the “holidays are a great time to be festive and celebrate.”

Tradition bubbles at Café la Rue inside La Valencia Hotel in La Jolla, where pink is prominent. The Sparkling LaV, created by food and beverage manager Tracy Ackley, fizzes Champagne together with crème de cassis, pomegranate juice and pomegranate seeds. Ackley believes “pomegranate is very winter, very holiday,” and wanted to “showcase the spirit the hotel has” with a cocktail anyone can “come in and enjoy.”

At local-driven Wheat & Water in Bird Rock, bar manager Shawn Marks strays from the traditional, submitting his Santa Would Go, which stirs a cookie-infused bourbon with Wheat & Water’s own cold brew, simple syrup, and chocolate and orange bitters and is served with a chocolate-dipped, orange-zested cookie. “What makes it holiday is the cookie,” Marks said, noting his take on drinks emphasizes “fresh ingredients … a farm-to-table approach.”

Holiday drinks at NINE-TEN restaurant and bar in La Jolla include the Spiced Pear Sour.
Holiday drinks at NINE-TEN restaurant and bar in La Jolla include the Spiced Pear Sour.
(Photo by Elisabeth Frausto)

Tucked into the Grande Colonial Hotel in La Jolla, the bar at NINE-TEN is shaking up the traditional whiskey sour. The Spiced Pear Sour combines rye whiskey, egg whites, ginger bitters, and switches up the traditional lemon and sugar for a homemade pear syrup, which bartender Katie Fuller counts as one of her favorite ingredients to work with. Collaborating with others on NINE-TEN’s bar recipes, Fuller likes “cider-style drinks” for the holidays, and highlights the syrup here, which is made with star anise, scorched pear, and coriander, accenting the amber cocktail.

Holiday drinks at George’s California Modern in La Jolla include the Nocino Sour.
(Photo by Elisabeth Frausto)

Another variety of whiskey sour can be found at George’s California Modern on Prospect Street in La Jolla, where Sam Peters, bar manager, shakes and strains his Nocino Sour. “I love whiskey sours,” Sam stated. “I like the richness of sours, and this one is very focused on the season.” He mixes a traditional sour but uses Nocino, a green walnut liqueur, and house-made cinnamon vanilla syrup, adding it all to a hickory- and cinnamon-smoked glass and grating cinnamon, nutmeg and star anise on top, noting that the “bold flavors” expressed in the drink “evoke the warmth of the season.”

Anchored in holiday flavors from simple and sparkling to the more adventurous and esoteric, these beverages aim to add a little more sparkle to the holidays. With all of these libations available through December (and many sticking around through February), there are plenty of opportunities to belly up to something belly-warming. Cheers!