Beyond the nog

Hot toddies, spiced rum and, yes, even eggnog. Sacramento bars and restaurants shake up the holiday cocktail tradition.

All hail the holiday cocktail. The proximity to family renders it a necessity, yet many of the traditional drinks associated with the holidays—hot toddies, Irish Coffee, and especially the often-reviled eggnog—are fusty and mediocre. In the spirit of the season, we asked experts at five local bars and restaurants what they’re doing to shake traditions up, why they think the liquor flows so much during the holidays, and, most importantly, are they pro or anti-nog?

Vince Bowen

bartender, Restaurant Thir13en

What holiday cocktails could you do without?

Things with too much Rumple Minze [peppermint schnapps], things that are too minty—they taste like Listerine.

Eggnog, yes or no?

I’m against it. Too milky!

How do you change your menu for the holidays?

Warmer drinks, hot toddies, things with cranberry, nutmeg—just drinks to get you in the holiday mood.

Plan to make any holiday cocktails at home?

I might infuse some bourbon with vanilla bean, and maybe infuse something with jalapeño or muddled habanero to warm things up.

Donald Guess

general manager, Hawks Restaurant

Holiday cocktails on the menu?

We are using ingredients that are in season right now: apples and pears. We have one called Apple Sauced, which is Calvados, fresh lemon and simple syrup.

Hate eggnog?

I certainly feel that way about fruitcake, but I happen to like eggnog. We have a house-made eggnog here. It’s very popular. We have it for three weeks before Christmas, and we also offer it as an amuse-bouche. People really love it.

David English

chef, The Press

Holiday cocktails?

We have a spiced-pear martini made with vodka, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. We have a blood-orange-rum cocktail made with light and dark rum, blood-orange juice and house-made limoncello. We have a Plaquemines Parish mandarin martini, which is made with Hendrick’s Gin and St-Germain elderflower liqueur.

Which one is your favorite?

The mandarin. They only have a seven-week season, and this cocktail is bright, beautiful and rounded. It booms, but it doesn’t overpower.

Erin Puckett

bartender, The Porch Restaurant and Bar

Holiday cocktails on your menu?

We have a drink called the Home Sweet Home. It’s a hot drink with house-made apple syrup and apple puree, Black Velvet [Toasted] Caramel whiskey, and Four Roses Bourbon. It’s got wintry flavors.

Favorite classic holiday cocktail?

A hot toddy.

How do you feel about eggnog?

People don’t really ask for it.

Do people drink more during the holidays?

Yes, because it’s the holidays, and you have to drink to deal with them!

Chris Tucker

bartender, Hook & Ladder Manufacturing Co.

You’re planning quite a few holiday cocktails. Which one are you most excited about?

The West Indies Sour. It’s got St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram, which is billed as “[Tradition] of the West Indies.” It’s not very high-proof, so I fortify it with brandy and mix it with lime, simple syrup and dry red wine. The brandy lends the backbone and strength. It’s got that mulled-wine thing going on, and it smells like Grandma’s stove top.

Do you get different requests during the holidays, and is there anything you get sick of?

We get more requests for some of the sweeter liqueurs, like Baileys and Kahlua with coffee. I don’t get annoyed, but I love to see people venture out.

Tell me about the 12 Days of Hot Toddies.

It’s a competition at The Golden Bear. … [It’s] an eight-person cocktail competition. You submit recipes, nothing is off-limits: mescal, gin, limoncello, and the traditional scotch, bourbon and brandy.

Pro or anti-nog?

I love eggnog! And I love making eggnog. There are certain holiday drinks I wish would last year-round.

Do people drink more during the holidays?

Absolutely, everyone drinks more—between work functions, friends and family, good times and bad times, people always drink.