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Try San Diego’s Best Warm Drinks for Chilly Weather

Written By: Elizabeth Nutt 6 Wintery Drinks to Warm Your Spirits in San Diego’s Cold Weather
Photographed By: Nick Isabella

While “winter” in Southern California certainly doesn’t connote images of snow falling, roaring fireplaces or fuzzy peacoats, no one can deny that when December rolls around, it begins to feel like winter around these parts. With palm trees covered in twinkly lights, the return of jeans, flannels and boots plus those serene, near-empty beaches, there is undoubtedly a unique winter season in San Diego. Sure, our winter is a far cry from snow-covered woods in picturesque Vermont, but out here, in sunny California, we have the luxury of enjoying the brisk air—or should we say, the slightest temperature drop—without the hassle of shoveling snow and layering those unsightly puffy coats. Instead, we’ll be sipping mojitos under the sun while over half of the country battles frostbite, black ice and the flu.

But for those of us who do crave a more authentic taste of that winter wonderland magic, San Diego’s thriving cocktail scene offers countless warm, spiked drinks that will transport you straight into the snowy meadow of your dreams. Crafty bartenders across the city are doing everything from creating pine-flavored bitters to beverages that taste like straight-out-of-the-oven oatmeal cookies. Some cocktails are brilliant spins on the old classics—think gin hot toddy—and others are so deliciously innovative you’ll want to thank us personally for providing you with the recipe. So grab your (light) jacket, take a break from the hustle and bustle of the holiday season and plop yourself on a barstool at one of these cozy San Diego establishments. We promise you that with one sip of these cocktails, you’ll be walking in a winter wonderland.

Cocoa Espresso

Jake’s is the perfect place to stop for a drink in Del Mar, no matter the month, especially because both its enticing food and drink menus evolve with the changing of the seasons. But, more importantly, Jake’s is one of the only restaurants in the area that is right on the water. For those of us who aren’t interested in staying indoors at a dimly lit bar during the winter months and would rather continue to take in a sunset right on the sand, Jake’s is the spot. And the ocean view, which is entirely unobstructed and offered through floor-to-ceiling windows, is incredible.

What sets Jake’s apart is also the fact that it’s been around for a while. The restaurant celebrated its 36th anniversary in 2016. More significantly, Jake’s building is historic: the building was home to the original Stratford Garage of the Stratford Inn—one of the very first hotels, and what used to be the only hotel in the area. Some of the building’s original beams can still be spotted throughout, and the Del Mar Village Association recently marked it as an historic structure.

But the restaurant stills feels fresh and modern, thanks, in part, to a big re-branding effort that occurred this year. Some of the changes include a brand-new interior and the cocktails are now called Sea Drinks. And, in keeping with the times, Jake’s works with sustainable and ethical local farms, and brings in organic meat and produce on the regular. Despite its modernity, however, Jake’s still employs a handful of bartenders who have been around since the restaurant opened. The result is a staff that knows exactly what its customers want, especially when it comes to crafting that perfect winter cocktail.

At a recent holiday party, Jake’s brought in a new spirit: Avión Espresso. The drink was so popular, the restaurant decided to incorporate it into its winter drink menu. It sounds like a strange mixture, but it continues to fly off the shelves at Jake’s (even Oprah listed it as part of her O-List in 2014). Constantly wanting to both please and surprise customers, the staff at Jake’s simply had to create a delicious craft winter cocktail inspired by the brown spirit. It’s the perfect drink: It’ll give you a little pep in your step, like you’ve just plunged into the Pacific, but it’s sure to warm and relax you, too.

Cocoa Espresso Recipe:

1.25 oz. Avión Espresso Tequila
.25 oz. Cointreau Liqueur
4 oz. Mexican hot chocolate
Topped with homemade fresh cream and cinnamon

Native Knowledge: Jake’s rich history doesn’t stop at the building itself; the restaurant was named after one of the city of Del Mar’s early mayors.

Jake’s Del Mar
1660 Coast Blvd
Del Mar, CA 92014
858.755.2002 | www.jakesdelmar.com

 

Christmas Cold Cocoa

Whether you’re looking to class up your weekend cocktail scene—or if you just want an excuse to get dressed up—L’Auberge Del Mar is the perfect upscale location for all of your gatherings this holiday season. The luxury resort hotel has not one but two swanky bar options and, as an added bonus, you’ll be able to sip your wintry cocktail by an outdoor fire pit at Bleu Bar, or next to a roaring fireplace inside at the Living Room Bar. We can’t think of a cozier chic spot to imbibe during the winter months.

On a chilly night, head inside to the Living Room Bar, a popular hangout that sits at the heart of the hotel and is truly the epicenter of its social activity. This classy-meets-comfortable establishment really does give off the warm, welcoming and relaxed vibes of a living room setting. The Living Room at L’Auberge Del Mar offers a L’Happy Hour Monday through Thursday, with handcrafted specialty cocktails and menu items at a discounted price. The bar also offers live music on the weekends, bringing in well-known bands as well as up-and-coming local artists.

Outside, at Bleu Bar, you’ll be able to take in those breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean during the golden hour. More on the California casual side of the spectrum, Bleu sits adjacent to the hotel’s pool, and offers one of the best ocean views in Del Mar. You can order a craft cocktail and a delectable item from Bleu’s snacks menu while you relax and take in the sunset or mingle next to the bar’s outdoor fire pit.

No matter where you find yourself enjoying a drink at L’Auberge, expect the high-quality experience for which the resort hotel is known, down to the very ingredients in your cocktail. At L’Auberge Del Mar, the bartenders take advantage of being able to create everything from scratch, which includes sourcing ingredients right from L’Auberge’s property like fresh kumquats or rosemary for housemade bitters. Expect an element of class and style that is inherent in every beverage this holiday season, whether it’s an enticing selection of effervescent cocktails made with champagne, or the deliciously refined spin on an old childhood classic: Christmas Cold Cocoa.

Christmas Cold Cocoa Recipe:

Godiva original chocolate liqueur
Crème de Cacao
Vanilla vodka
Half-and-half

Serve shaken, strained and in a chilled martini glass with a swirl of chocolate.

Native Knowledge: The resort is situated on the historic site of the Stratford Inn, which eventually became the original Hotel Del Mar. Back in the day, Hotel Del Mar was the place to see and be seen among Hollywood film stars.

L’Auberge Del Mar
1540 Camino Del Mar
Del Mar, CA 92014
858.259.1515 | www.laubergedelmar.com

 

Hot Buttered Rum

Spend three minutes at Polite Provisions and it won’t be difficult to understand why it was recognized by Imbibe magazine in 2014 as  Cocktail Bar of the Year. Bartender and proprietor Erick Castro has a knack for bringing back some of the more antiquated processes—and flavors—of bartending, and the result is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Castro got his start at San Francisco’s Rickhouse and Bourbon & Branch, where he found his niche: researching the hard-to-find recipes, ingredients and techniques that were characteristic of bars and cocktails prior to Prohibition.

As such, the Polite Provisions concept draws from the days of vintage drugstores, creating an ambiance as charming and classic as a Norman Rockwell painting. However, in lieu of the classic soda pop fountain, Castro has built a menu around the idea of creating spirited cocktails using housemade bitters, soda pop, tinctures and syrups, all of which are derived, in some part, from the ingredients’ original medicinal uses. Having pored over countless vintage pharmaceutical books to gather inspiration for his novel menu, Castro has forged an innovative path in the craft cocktail industry. The result? Cocktails that truly “cure what ails you, ” and a bartender who has earned his place as one of the most successful trailblazers in the industry.

Polite Provisions is also home to the most comprehensive custom bar tap system in the country. In a snap, the establishment can pour 18 different types of craft beer, as well as three carbonated cocktails, two noncarbonated spirituous cocktails, two nonalcoholic carbonated craft sodas, eight white wines and nine red wines. If that’s not enough to wet your whistle, the custom tap system also includes one tap of each of the following: amaro, dry vermouth, aperitif, sherry and ice-cold coffee. Polite Provisions has it all.

Not surprisingly, when it comes to the creation of a wintry cocktail, Castro has gone all out in making a beverage so good you’ll think it’s made with oatmeal cookie dough (and it basically is). Warm melted butter, nutmeg and aged rum come together beautifully to create a sweet, hot-buttered rum concoction that easily rivals any holiday cookie. Talk about the perfect cure for the winter blues.

Penny For Your Thoughts: In keeping with the vintage drugstore ambiance, the floors in both the men’s and women’s restrooms at Polite Provisions are covered entirely in pennies.

Hot Buttered Rum Recipe:

Nutmeg
Clove
Hot Water
Demerara Rum
Allspice Syrup
1 small pat of melted butter

Temp your glass with hot water and discard, then add the butter and a splash of hot water to melt the butter. Add the rum and allspice syrup and mix. Top with fresh grated cinnamon and enjoy!

Polite Provisions
4696 30th St
San Diego, CA 92116
619.677.3784 | www.politeprovisions.com

 

Mulled Wine

Nothing is cozier during the winter months than a dimly lit wine bar. And Splash Wine Lounge has the market on that scene—its relaxed, romantic dark-wood feel is both homey and warm, i.e. exactly the kind of place where you want to be on those chillier winter nights. It’s no wonder Splash has been recognized as one of the best date spots in San Diego. But Splash is just as much about comfort and appeal as it is about convenience. This wine bar offers nearly 100 types of wine from all over the world via a self-serve tasting machine. That’s right, you get to pour your own tastes of wine at the push of a button. Nothing will brighten your spirits during the holiday season more than a self-serve wine machine, which doles out a splash of red or white wine in perfectly instantaneous one-ounce pours. Alternatively, the bar offers 30 different types of wine by the glass or bottle.

The most exciting part about the self-serve wine bar is the fact that you can create your own customized flights. We won’t ask you to do the math, but we will tell you that 100 types of wine equals nearly 400, 000 possible combinations when it comes to crafting your own personalized flight. And the whole process is as easy as purchasing a prepaid wine-tasting card; the self-serve system is incredibly user friendly (maybe a little too user friendly). Prices range from about $1 for a splash of wine to $5 per splash. And if your style is geared more toward learning about wine than simply pushing the pour button, Splash offers ample education on all of its wines, as well as a monthly tasting and pairing classes. The staff members are knowledgeable and always on hand to answer questions.

And when temperatures do dip below 70 in San Diego, there is no better way to warm up than the enticing mulled wine that Splash has crafted specifically for the winter season. A spin on the classic recipe, the restaurant uses traditional ingredients such as a thinly sliced orange and cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg, but it definitely reflects the wine bar’s interpretation of the warm beverage. Splash incorporates an orange-flavored tea into its mulled wine and prefers to add agave syrup to sweeten it as a healthier alternative to sugar. This is a cup of goodness that will warm you from head to toe.

Mulled Wine Recipe:

Two bottles of red wine (a heavier wine is better—Cabernet, Merlot, or Malbec will work best)
¼ cup mulling spices (you can purchase this at your local grocer during the winter or make your own with allspice, nutmeg, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon and wrap it into a cheese cloth)
One Orange Spice tea bag
½ cup of agave syrup (more or less can be used depending on the level of sweetness you like)
One orange, thinly sliced
One cinnamon stick

Simmer all of this on low in a crock pot and serve hot with a cinnamon stick in the glass and a slice of orange on the rim of a clear coffee mug.

Native Knowledge: On Tuesdays, all of Splash’s wines are half-off, which means you can taste some wines for only 49 cents a splash!

Splash Wine Lounge
3043 University Ave
San Diego, CA 92104
619.296.0714 | www.asplashofwine.com

 

Gin Hot Toddy

At Counterpoint, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a cool, artsy and welcoming kitchen that belongs to one of your best friends. In fact, the bartenders think of themselves as a bunch of tight-knit roommates who get to throw cool parties every night. That over-the-top-hospitality and relaxed, at-home vibe sets this Golden Hill-area establishment apart from other bars and restaurants. Truly a laid-back neighborhood place, Counterpoint’s menu is simple and delicious—think basic but mouth-watering cheese plates and homemade ice cream—and yet the preparation of food and drink at this bar is undoubtedly a craft, and a communal effort at that. Counterpoint’s kitchen and bar staff is constantly working together to come up with innovative, tasty surprises for their regulars. One example? The brilliant Dakota Stockert, who tends bar at Counterpoint, has been experimenting with an insanely good drink made with apple and red pepper.

Contributing to its popularity is the fact that Counterpoint embodies an “if we can make it here in house, we’re gonna do it!” mentality, which you can taste in the food that comes out of its kitchen. But this ideology is especially  true for its cocktail menu. The bartenders make their own bitters, which means Counterpoint has an impressive behind-the-bar stock of over 20 house bitters at any given time. The flavors range from the standard aromatic bitters to variations like celery, lemongrass and rosemary bitters. They also have six or seven housemade barrel-aged cocktails on draft for those who are interested in tasting a cocktail perfected.

More importantly, this particular bar seems to be especially in its element during the winter months, when the bartenders can experiment with a robust array of flavors and methods specific to the season. Expect delicious additions to the menu during winter, such as housemade liqueurs—including a pumpkin liqueur—and, of course, some special wintry bitters.

Once you finally duck into Counterpoint to experience what some of the most creative and detail-oriented bartenders in San Diego have to offer, be sure to take a seat in a blue chair and soak up the warm, inviting surroundings. Take note of the awe-inspiring blown glass creations that decorate the place, created by local artist Aaron Buchholz. Oh, and you absolutely cannot forget to order Counterpoint’s most esteemed winter cocktail, the gin hot toddy, which we affectionately call “Christmas in a cup.”

Gin Hot Toddy Recipe:

2 oz. Plymouth gin
1 oz. lemon
1 oz. raw sugar
3 dashes housemade Douglas fir bitters
Top with hot water Garnish with pine sprig

Winter Flavor: Expect delicious additions to the menu during winter, such as housemade liqueurs—including a pumpkin liqueur—and, of course, some special wintry bitters.

Feeling Flighty: It’s not on the menu, but customers can order flights of Counterpoint’s housemade barrel-aged cocktail creations at any time. Flights include four tastings of craft cocktails, as well as a ¾-ounce pour of the bar’s own barrel-aged gin.

Counterpoint
830 25th St, Ste 100
San Diego, CA
619.564.6722 | www.counterpointsd.com

 C O L D /// On The Outside, Warm On The Inside: 6 Winter Cocktails in San Diego You Need To Try.