Strong Spirits for the Holidays


Santa has it hard, children. If you believe he visits all the houses around the world in one night, realize that it's a task as tricky as completing the torturous drive west on the 10 freeway from Santa Monica to downtown on a Friday night under 20 minutes. Even if you just believe he's Mom or Dad, "Santa" still has to buy the presents, wrap them up, and place them under the tree without waking you.

So Santa needs something hard to drink, children. This column suggests four fine California pours that capture the spirit of the season. To sooth his (or her) nerves, consider leaving these out for your Santa when milk and cookies don't cut it. The reindeer will lead the sleigh, so he won't get a DUI -- Delivering Under the Influence -- either.

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Corbin Cash Sweet Potato Liqueur
If you can make vodka from potato why not make a liqueur from sweet potatoes? David Souza owns a century-old farm, and developed this sweet potato elixir in a way similar to a barrel-aged whiskey. By law, whiskey is made of grains, so here comes this delightful bottle that's got the seasonal tuber flavor at its heart, but also notes of vanilla and some added spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove). Serve it as a fine aperitif, or sub it in for some of the whiskey in a sour, or pour over a scoop of ice cream.

Cutler Artisan Spirits Grandma Tommie's Apple Pie
Sure, there's a theme here -- what vegetable or fruit can we turn into something delicious to drink? Ian Cutler, owner of the first distillery in Santa Barbara proper since Prohibition, makes this liqueur in honor of his grandmother, who was a fine baker as well. Not only do you get the apple flavor, but also the buttery sense of crust -- again, vanilla flavor is at the forefront, plus a hint of spice. What else are the holidays about but elevating our senses of nostalgia? This will help.

DSP CA 162 Vaccinium Macrocarpon (Cranberry) Vodka
It's got to be good with a name so impossible to market, no? Let's take it apart. DSP CA 162 is the federal registration number of the original Germain-Robin distiller -- and if you know brandy in this state, you know that's premium. Vaccinium Macrocarpon is just cranberry in Latin. There are some Buddha's hand citrus and floral notes in there, too, so think of this as a vodka with true flavor.

Ventura Spirits Opuntia Prickly Pear Spirit
Mexico's tequila is made from agave. This spirit, made in California, uses Nopal cactus. Ventura Spirits is the kind of micro-distillery that forages for ingredients, so it's little surprise they would opt to create a north-of-the-border variation of a classic. Think agave-ish tastes with a bit more earth and a touch more sweet. Sub it into a margarita, sip it on its own, or have fun experimenting. It's the season of creation and light (St. Germain, muddled habañero, and fresh squeezed lime?) after all. Claus no doubt likes a good cocktail.

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