Richard Foss

Here’s to the holidays: the South Bay’s best mixologists share uniquely festive drink recipes

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Drinks that go well with mistletoe

Rock’n Fish bartender Leo Villalobos and his new holiday creation, Noggin On Heaven’s Door. Photo by Brad Jacobson

  by Richard Foss

There are traditional drinks of Christmas around the world; Germans enjoy Glühwein, hot red wine with lemon and spices, Argentines a mix of sparkling wine, pineapple juice, and lemon that is famous for exacting revenge the next day. The English favor hot spiced wine or ale drinks called wassails, or the heavily alcoholic punches that were the centerpiece at Charles Dickens’ table.

American Christmas cocktails are often based on eggnog, a Colonial American mix of cream, eggs, and rum or whiskey, or the citrusy, heavily alcoholic punches that were the centerpiece at Charles Dickens’ table. Hot spiced wine (or more rarely, ale) also occasionally makes an appearance. All of those drinks are very good when well-made, but most people enjoy them mainly for their antique novelty. They’re out of tune with modern ideas about flavor and are often overly sweet.   

Fortunately modern mixologists have ideas about how to reflect the traditions of the season, and the experts at three local restaurants were willing to share not only their recipes, but the inspiration behind them.

Eggnog reimagined

Leo Villalobos, who has been bartending at Rock’n Fish for three years, is always experimenting with flavors and combinations.

“Sometimes I’m on my way to work and I’ll stop at the market to see what fresh fruits came in, what’s different and new. I bring in whatever I find and play around with it for a few days.”  

Villalobos wasn’t trying to make a Christmas drink when he invented “Noggin At Heaven’s Door.” One day early this spring he was experimenting with falernum, a fruity Caribbean syrup with subtle flavors of almond, ginger, and cloves. This is often used in tropical drinks, but Villalobos wanted to see what other effects he could get with it.

“I didn’t have a specific goal, but I was thinking about the clove flavor that is in falernum,” he said. “I knew as soon as I tasted it with cinnamon and nutmeg that it was a holiday drink rather than a spring or summer drink.”

The drink he named “Noggin At Heaven’s Door” gets the essence of a good eggnog without any milk or cream and is much lighter and more complex. The fruity flavors in the falernum are important — you can find it at any good liquor store.  


Leo’s Noggin At Heaven’s Door recipe


Dry shake 1 egg white vigorously then add:


1 1/2 oz Makers Mark bourbon

3/4 oz Velvet Falernum

1/2 oz Simple syrup

1/2 oz Lime

7 dashes Cinnamon powder


Shake all ingredients vigorously with ice, then strain into a bucket glass over large ice cube. Finish with 3 dashes nutmeg, garnish with cinnamon stick.



Zane’s Kathy Doel with her Zane’s Vanilla Cider. Photo by Brad Jacobson

New England cider goes Caribbean

Kathy Doel, who was voted Best Bartender by our readers this year, collaborated with Zane’s co-owner Elisa Koss to create Zane’s Vanilla Cider. The two of them invented several drinks that will be served this season, but Koss says that she decided to share this one because it is closest to her heart.

“I picked this one out of all the ones we created because for me the holiday brings to mind flavors of warm apple cider, of vanilla, of baking,” Doel said.  “It tastes like a soulful, drinkable dessert, and when you top it with the nutmeg and cinnamon stick, it’s delicious.”   

Koss cautioned that you must be exact about the most important element of the drink.

“You need to use unfiltered apple cider, because it really changes the consistency of the drink. It gives it a more earthy taste, instead of the crispness of apple juice.”


Zane’s Vanilla Cider recipe


1oz Vanilla vodka

1oz. Captain Morgan spiced rum

1/2oz Triple sec

2oz. Unfiltered apple cider


Shake and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a cinnamon stick and a dash of nutmeg.




Hey 19 owner Demi Stevens, a mixologist in her own right, turned a German cookie into a holiday drink, called “On Blitzen.” Photo by Brad Jacobson

Cookie in a Glass

Demi Stevens recreated a specific seasonal flavor from her childhood for the drink that is being served at her restaurant Hey 19.

“I lived in Germany as a kid, and at every Christmas we had Pfeffernusse, those orange-flavored Christmas cookies with powdered sugar on them. There’s some orange rind in them, the tart orange rather than the super sweet one,” Stevens said. “I like those cookies, and I have my mother’s handwritten recipe for them at home. It might even be my grandmother’s recipe, but it’s in my mother’s handwriting. When I think of Christmas, that’s the flavor that comes to mind. I created this recipe for a group because I figure you’ll have a lot of people at the house.”

“You can serve this as a cocktail as it is, or add orange juice and make it a nice punch. It will keep for two months in the fridge, but you won’t have it that long. It’s tasty and you’ll run through it.”

Stevens cautioned that when making this or any other citrus punch you should use a non-metallic bowl or pitcher. Citronge is an orange liqueur that is similar to Cointreau but with a distinctive agave flavor, and is widely available.


Demi’s “On Blitzen” recipe


2 cups Orange wheels, halved

3 Vanilla beans split and scraped

4-5 Cinnamon sticks

1/2 c Agave nectar

1 1/2 liters Bourbon  

125 ml Citronge (orange liqueur)


Place ingredients in order above in large container, stir to mix, and refrigerate for 2 days. To serve, shake 3.5 ounces of mixture in a shaker with ice, then strain into a cinnamon and sugar rimmed martini glass. Garnish with an orange wheel from mixture. Sit on Santa’s lap and enjoy.


Terranea Resort mixologist Adam Stearns and his Blitzen’s Bubbles concoction. Photo by Archel Arindaeng

Monks meet in a recipe

Adam Stearns, the mixologist at Terranea Resort, seemed surprised when asked whether he combined Champagne with Benedictine at Christmas because both were originally invented by Catholic monks.

“That’s true, but it wasn’t the inspiration behind this drink,” Stearns said. “The flavors of this season are fruit and spice, though the fruit isn’t usually pomegranate or raspberries. This is based on the Champagne Cocktail, made with brandy, a sugar cube and Angostura bitters topped with Champagne. The Benedictine has both sweetness and bitterness and is substituting for the bitters, and you’re adding sweetness from the fruit instead of just sugar.”

The original Champagne Cocktail is a classic. Its recipe was first published in 1862 in “The Bon Vivant’s Companion,” the world’s first book of cocktail recipes. Like many mixologists, Stearns often draws on old drinks for inspiration, and he had a colorful explanation of the process.  

“There is something we in the community call the potato head method, based on the classic toy, where you can take off pieces and replace them with other pieces,” he said. “We do that with cocktails, removing one component from a classic and adding something else to put your own spin on it. The classics are classics because they work, and you can take those ideas and give them a subtle twist.”  


Adam’s Blitzen’s Bubbles Recipe


½ ounce Benedictine

½ ounce pomegranate juice

4 ounces sparkling wine

6 muddled raspberries


Muddle raspberries in shaker tin, add all ingredients but sparkling wine. Shake and double strain into flute. Top with sparkling wine and garnish with raspberries and mint.


Rebel Republic’s Sarah Pauly and her Pauly ‘Stache Cider, invented for a Moustache Club event and enduring due to its wintry Northeastern depth of flavor. Photo by Brad Jacobson

The Flavors of New England

Rebel Republic Social House has a modern design and menu, but when bartender Sarah Pauly created a holiday cocktail she invoked a set of flavors that go back to colonial America. It’s based on apple cider and diluted maple syrup with vodka and falernum bitters, and it has an odd name because of the event where it debuted.    

“It’s called the ’Stache Cider because Sarah invented this for a charity event we hosted for the Los Angeles Moustache Club,” explained managing partner Andrew Northam. “The flavors are the ones associated with winter in the Northeast. Those are the flavors of winter even if you’ve never lived there, though since we have such a substantial transplant population here a lot of our customers have firsthand knowledge. I don’t know what a winter cocktail with California flavors would be, because things are less seasonal here.”

Falernum, a fruity Caribbean syrup with subtle flavors of almond, ginger, and cloves, is usually used in tropical drinks, and the bittered version adds a touch of spice and exotica to an American classic. So far the customer reaction has been positive, and Northam thinks the drink could have staying power.

“We think this isn’t just a Christmas drink. We’re going to keep making it after the holidays,” he said. “The flavors that are in there may not be popular in the middle of summertime, but it could stay on for a while.“


Sarah’s  ’Stache Cider


1 ½ ounce Tito’s Vodka

½ ounce Lemon juice

½ ounce Maple simple syrup

1 ½ ounce unfiltered apple cider

4 dashes Falernum bitters


Stir and garnish with orange wheel dusted with cinnamon


These recipes can all be created by a home bartender, and are sure to enliven holiday gatherings. You can practice at home, and then visit any of these establishments to compare your execution with that of the people who invented the drinks. It’s your choice — make them at home if you want to extend your skills and don’t mind a little cleanup, or take your favorite designated driver or hired car to sample the work of the pros. Happy Holidays! 


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