Pull up a seat at the bar, San Diego: area casinos are getting into the holiday spirit with specially crafted cocktails for the season.
Whether festive, fruity, frosty or fancy, these delicious drinks are a way to celebrate the most wonderful time of year — with bells on.
“Cocktails and the holidays really go hand in hand,” said Nick Hirsch, the newly hired mixologist for Pechanga Resort & Casino. “The holidays are about gatherings, and it’s the cocktail … that brings everyone together.”
Coupled with food, the season is a time to indulge, Hirsch added, when “we generally tend to curb our discipline a bit, loosen our belts a bit.”
Whether you’re concocting the drinks for relatives at home or imbibing with friends at a casino lounge, a key ingredient in the perfect holiday cocktail is the nostalgia factor, he said.
“The things that make parties and gatherings great are traditions. It’s the things you remember, what you associate with the holidays when you were young, like eggnog and sparkling cider.”
Grace Skarra, the casino operations beverage manager at Harrah’s Resort Southern California, said the specialty holiday cocktails there are loaded with cheer — and seasonal sentimentality.
“We use ingredients you usually only bring out at the holidays, like pumpkin, peppermint and apple cinnamon,” she said. “Things you normally wouldn’t drink the rest of the year.”
Since it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas, here’s a round-up of holiday drinks that are sure to bring joy to the casino world this month. And if you want to bring the festivities home, we’ve also included recipes for select casino cocktails below.
Golden Acorn is going spicy and bubbly with two seasonal drinks being offered at Player’s Bar.
The Apple Pie on the Rocks is a fresh-baked blend of vanilla vodka, Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey, organic apple juice, a hint of ground cinnamon, a brown sugar rim and a fresh cinnamon stick for garnish.
A Peppermint White Christmas Champagne Cocktail combines sparkling wine with white crème de cacao and a candy cane to finish.
1800 Golden Acorn Way, Campo. (866) 794-6244. goldenacorncasino.com.
Harrah’s Resort Southern California
Skarra, the casino operations beverage manager at Harrah’s Resort SoCal, created four distinctly flavored cocktails.
For the Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice, she mixed vodka with Baileys Pumpkin Spice Liqueur, mulled spices simple syrup and a teaspoon of pumpkin purée. Served in a retro-chic coupe, it’s got a yummy graham cracker rim.
Creamy, minty and subtly coconut-tinged, the White Christmas has white chocolate liqueur, Malibu rum, peppermint simple syrup, a splash of cream and a peppermint candy rim on the martini glass.
For people who prefer more spirit-forward drinks, the Little Brown Apple Cinnamon Old Fashioned has Buffalo Trace Kentucky bourbon, apple brandy, cinnamon simple syrup and Jerry Thomas bitters, all gussied up with a dehydrated apple slice and a cinnamon stick.
And looking ahead to New Year’s Eve, there’s sparkling, blood orange, peach and cranberry cocktail called, aptly enough, The Resolution.
777 Harrah’s Rincon Way, Valley Center. (760) 751-3100. harrahssocal.com.
Bartenders at Jamul Casino opted to highlight some of the most festive drinks already on their bar menu.
The brilliantly red Scarlett O’Hara has bourbon, Taylor Fladgate Tawny Port, cherry bitters, a touch of maple syrup and Luxardo cherry garnish.
A wine-based Cobbler, in both red and white, mixes muddled berries and fruit, Cointreau, pineapple juice and a berry-fruit garnish. St. Supéry sauvignon blanc is used for the white; Babcock pinot noir for the red.
The Spicy Ronin lives up to its name. An innovative blend of sake, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, lemon and agave nectar, it has a good kick when made with muddled fresno chilies. The “Atomic” version has muddled jalapeños.
14145 Campo Road, Jamul. (619) 315-2250. jamulcasinosd.com
Pala Casino Spa & Resort
The holidays are being celebrated in style at Pala’s new Marquise Bar, with six cocktails that are pretty — and pretty delicious.
A White Christmas Mojito is a twist on the classic, with lime, mint, sugar, white rum, coconut rum, coconut milk, sparkling water and pomegranate arils. Served in a coconut-rimmed martini glass, the Jack Frost blends pineapple juice, blue Curaçao, rum (or vodka), cream of coconut and light corn syrup.
The Nogtini may become your favorite dessert: eggnog, Kahlúa, vodka, chocolate syrup, ground nutmeg, whipped cream and a cherry.
Cranberry mimosas, with a little lime and sugar, decorated with fresh cranberries and rosemary sprigs bring the holiday bubbles. And two rainbow cocktails change color as you drink them. Santa’s Shot has white and green crème de menthe, plus grenadine and a coconut rim, while the Candy Cane is blended with Captain Morgan Coconut Rum, blue Curaçao, pineapple juice and a splash of grenadine.
11154 Highway 76, Pala. (877) 946-7252. palacasino.com
The casino’s Triple Seven Bar and Red Parrot Lounge is offering three seasonal concoctions. The Cranberry Rosemary Wreath has bourbon, rosemary simple syrup, cranberry juice and a fresh sprig of rosemary.
The Pauma Royale is a festive blend of pomegranate liqueur and Champagne, with a gold sugar rim and fresh cranberries. The White Christmas is a creamy, holiday version of a white chocolate mocha white Russian.
777 Pauma Reservation Road, Pauma Valley. (760) 742-2177. casinopauma.com
Pechanga Resort & Spa
Hirsch, the resort’s mixologist, likes to get creative with ingredients — like smoking rosemary, dehydrating citrus and drying hibiscus tea leaves before brewing.
His holiday cocktails served at the Lobby Bar & Grill are the ultra purple-pink “Beet It,” with Bombay Sapphire, anise and infused beet juice with citrus and sugar and the “PSA” (Pumpkin Spice Apple), with apple brandy, homemade pumpkin spice purée and a dash of orange juice.
At Umi Sushi & Oyster Bar, the Mankai, Japanese for full bloom, is made with Grey Goose Cherry Noir, hibiscus and papaya purée, sake and fresh squeezed lemon juice.
45000 Pechanga Parkway, Temecula. (888) 732-4264.
The drink menu at Wachena bar and restaurant features three holiday cocktails being served through Christmas Day.
The elegant and tropical Winter Wonderland Martini is blended with vanilla vodka, creamy RumChata liqueur and blue Curaçao, served chilled in a coconut-rimmed martini glass.
A festive Cranberry Margarita has Hornitos Plata tequila, triple sec, muddled cranberries, sweet and sour mix and cranberry juice, in a green salt-rimmed, glass garnished with a lime and cranberry.
And the grown-up Gingerbread Martini mixes Baileys Irish Cream, Fireball vanilla vodka, ginger syrup and half & half, served chilled in a gingerbread crumb-rimmed martini glass, topped with whipped cream.
5469 Casino Way, El Cajon.(619) 445-6002. sycuan.com
Valley View Casino & Hotel
The beverage mavens at Valley View are also highlighting a cocktail from their current bar menu — and keeping the holidays SoCal tropical.
The White Citrus Bay Breeze blends Forty Degrees vodka with lime juice, simple syrup, white cranberry juice and pineapple. Garnished with lime, a strawberry and tropical fruit, the umbrella is optional.
16300 Nyemii Pass Road, Valley Center. (760) 291-5500. valleyviewcasino.com
Viejas Casino & Resort
The stylish bar at Locale Kitchen + Lounge has equally fetching cocktails on its seasonal menu.
The decadent Gimme S’More mixes both Godiva chocolate and Godiva white chocolate liqueur with vanilla vodka, simple syrup and heavy cream. A chocolate and graham cracker-rimmed coupe glass is topped with two flaming marshmallows.
The chic Kessler cocktail, served in a double rocks glass with a large format, round ice cube, has gin, Cynar (artichoke liqueur), Campari and couple of dashes of orange bitters, garished with orange zest and two cherries.
5000 Willows Road, Alpine. (619) 445-5400. viejas.com
Pala White Christmas Mojito
Juice of one lime
1 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. white rum
1 tbsp. coconut rum
¼ cup canned coconut milk
Sparkling water for topping
Pomegranate arils for serving
Muddle the mint with sugar and lime. Add rums and coconut milk and shake. Top off with sparkling water and garnish.
Harrah’s Resort SoCal White Christmas
1 oz. white chocolate liqueur
½ oz. Malibu rum
½ oz. peppermint simple syrup
Splash of cream
Crushed peppermint candy to rim glass
Blend liquids in an shaker with ice. Strain and pour into candy-rimmed martini glass.
Viejas Gimme S’More
¾ oz. Godiva chocolate liqueur
¾ Godiva white chocolate liqueur
1 oz. vanilla vodka
½ oz. simple syrup
1 oz. heavy cream
Melted chocolate and graham cracker crumbs to rim glass
Build in a mixing glass. Shake vigorously. Pour and strain into a coupe rimmed with melted chocolate and graham cracker crumbs. Float marshmallows and use kitchen torch to set them aflame.
(Served at the Lobby Bar & Grill)
2 oz. apple brandy
1 ½ oz. pumpkin pureé*
½ oz. orange juice
Pour ingredients into shaker over ice. Shake, strain over ice. Optional whipped cream and sprinkle of cinnamon on top.
* To make the pumpkin pureé
- Bring 2 cups of water to a boil.
- Put 2 cups of chopped butternut squash or pumpkin (user choice) in boiling water. (The pre-cut bags from the grocery store is an easy hack.)
- Reduce heat to low and stir in: 1 tbsp. of cinnamon, 1 tbsp. of clove, 1 tbsp. of nutmeg until dissolved.
- Steep the mixture for 15 minutes, lightly muddling the squash as it softens.
- Strain out solids and stir in 2 cups of brown sugar into the liquid until dissolved. (For added texture, you can pour the entirety of the contents into a blender and purée instead of straining out solids.)
- Store refrigerated.