When it comes to capturing holiday cheer in a glass, we’ve come a long way since the yuletides of yore. Sure, carolers may still sing “Here We Come Awassailing,” but few are bellying up to the bar later for wassail, a heated brandy and apple cider concoction. Heating wine with spices — think Glühwein when you’re with Germans, glögg with Swedes — understandably still holds appeal to those in cooler climes, but today’s mixologists have come up with alternative methods for making patrons feel all warm and cozy. Dark spirits can quickly take the chill off, while bright colors, sparkling notes and spiced spirits somehow convey seasonal merriment even without a signature song. Here are seven suggestions for festive tipples in San Francisco and on the Peninsula this year. Bonus: Almost all lie within easy reach of Union Square or Stanford Shopping Center, because if holiday shopping doesn’t deserve a drink, what else does?
The lively bar of Kimpton Sir Francis Drake Hotel produced this bubbly cocktail, a mix of Ketel One vodka, lime juice and cranberry shrub, strained and served in a coupe glass, topped with sparkling wine and garnished with a sprig of rosemary. Head bartender Travis Briere says “many years spent around a Thanksgiving table” inspired this refreshing predinner pick-me-up.
450 Powell St., SanFrancisco. 415-392-7755, sirfrancisdrake.com
Wool & Yarn
This “slow sipper” on the Mission District cocktail lounge’s current menu lends itself well to holiday imbibing, according to bar manager Alfie Spears. Incorporating Redbreast Irish whiskey, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, Fernet-Branco herbal liqueur, pumpkin curried with housemade garam masala, Coke and lemon, it comes with a ramekin of cashews to nibble between sips.
3010 20th St., San Francisco.415-471-2999, trickdogbar.com
Jasper’s Corner Tap & Kitchen
Head bartender Sergio Casas decided to forgo traditional eggnog for his twist on its Puerto Rican cousin, the coquito (“little coconut”). His “decadent blend” of coconut cream, evaporated and condensed milk, egg yolks, vanilla extract and housemade rumchata comes garnished with a rosemary spring and a cinnamon stick.
401 Taylor St., San Francisco. 415-775-7979, jasperscornertap.com
Traditional Italian cocktails maybe standards here, but hot toddies inspired general manager Cynthia Tran to create this East-meets-West winter warmer. Served in a tea cup, it blends equal parts Averna amaro (a Sicilian digestif), BroVo No. 1 amaro, chai tea syrup and lemon juice with hot water, topped with a lemon wheel.
501 Geary St., San Francisco. 415-292-0101, tratto-sf.com
Created by lead bartender Eloy Martinez, the Beet-tini has long been one of Flea Street’s most popular holiday cocktails, according to general partner Michael Biesemeyer. Beet juice reflects the restaurant’s focus on fresh produce, with a zesty kick from mezcal, tequila, lemon juice, simple syrup and ginger.
3607 Alameda de las Pulgas, Menlo Park. 650-854-1226, cooleatz.com/flea-st-cafe
“We were inspired by the story of the nutcracker, which was traditionally gifted as a keepsake to bring luck to the family and protect the home,” says Madera Lounge manager Olivia Aguilar of this rich and nutty cocktail. Ingredients include Michter’s rye, St. George spiced pear liqueur, Fernet-Branca, chocolate bitters, roasted pecan maple syrup and a garnish of roasted pecan.
Inside Rosewood Sand Hill, 2825 Sand Hill Rd., Menlo Park.650-561-1540, maderasandhill.com
Under Bright Blinking Lights
Sip this spicy concoction under the dance floor flights of the newly remodeled, renamed aerie atop the Kimpton Sir Francis Drake Hotel. John Stanton, Kimpton’s West Coast manager of bars, workshopped this cocktail with the hotel’s bar team, landing on Espalon Reposado tequila, Punt e Mes (an Italian vermouth), spiced cranberry agave, lime juice and angostura bitters.
450 Powell St., San Francisco.415-395-8595, lizziesstarlightsf.com