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Glass with colorful holiday cocktail
The ‘First Light Flannel’ is a holiday cocktail created by San Diego-based First Light Coffee Whiskey. Photo courtesy First Light Coffee Whiskey
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What makes for a good holiday cocktail?

Fall is gone. I know because pumpkin spice is on the clearance rack. I’m feeling less and less motivated to heat up apple cider with a nip of brandy, and all of sudden everything is peppermint flavored.

For my feelings on eggnog — it is gross — find a copy of last week’s Cheers! North County column. Which means I need to find a new seasonally appropriate cocktail to drink.

In doing some research, I was confronted with the following question: What makes a drink a winter holiday cocktail and not just, say, a regular drink I could order in late May?

The answer doesn’t pop up when you Google it. What does come up is a series of holiday cocktail lists from every food and drink blog on the planet.

Want to know what Southern Living suggests you serve at your next holiday mixer? Look no further! Wonder what holiday cocktail Snoop Dogg claims as his own? You can find that easily. Yet, the parameters of the holiday cocktail remain evasive.

I peruse the lists looking for commonalities. The word “zesty” gets thrown around, as does “creamy” and “frosty.” They are code words for the most common ingredients.

Cranberries are popular, though not as popular as cinnamon sticks, dashes of allspice, or candy cane garnishes.

The occasional apple cider cocktail seems to have slipped into December despite clearly belonging back at Thanksgiving.

It is, however, winter, and when I see the word “warmer,” my interest is piqued. It was a frigid 55 degrees when I went to get coffee this morning.

I remind you that my upbringing was entirely in the frozen tundra of Wisconsin. I have experienced truly cold winters that inspired brother scuffles over the better heating vent in the living room.

But somehow the chill of the Pacific Ocean air flowing past me as I traversed North County just after dawn cut through my flannel coat and tore into the core of my humanly warmth.

As I wrapped my hands around a molasses, house-made vanilla bean syrup and cinnamon latte from Camp Coffee in Oceanside, I let the steam soak up into my beard, and warm my cheeks, I was given a brief glimpse into my future.

I’ll save you the suspense. It was me a few hours later at happy hour pouring two fingers of coffee whiskey into a steaming mug of hot chocolate.

That alone, wouldn’t make for a great column, but I also had an epiphany.

Holiday cocktails become holiday cocktails when they are imbued with the spirit of the season.

Sure a crumble of peppermint stick or a dash of cinnamon might make that martini glass pretty, but it is the joy and love and care that the bartender or barista or Auntie Sharon infused that drink with that made it a holiday cocktail.

In a year in which we’ve gone through cycles of growing closer and further with those all around us, the holiday cocktail gives us all the ability to share a little warmth with the family, friends, delivery drivers, and downstairs neighbors we love.

All you need to do when you make it, be it a white winter margarita or a can of beer from the nearest local brewery, is believe the spirit of the season is flowing through you, and maybe get enough to share.

I reached out to Ryan Espi and David Elizondo, the founders of First Light Coffee Whiskey, for some holiday cocktail recipes that might keep me warm.

They obliged with a classic and a new original. Enjoy.

First Light Holiday Coffee


• 1½ oz First Light Dark Roast Coffee Whiskey

• 8 oz hot coffee

• 1-2 drops peppermint extract

• Top with oat milk or Irish cream liquor, if desired

First Light Flannel: A Holiday Cocktail


• 1 oz First Light Original Coffee Whiskey

• 1 oz scotch

• 1 oz apple cider

  ½ oz Bruto Americano

• ¼ oz lemon juice

• ½ oz allspice dram

• 2 dashes Angostura aromatic bitters

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake over ice and strain. Garnish with orange peel if desired.


Don’t forget! The Roast! West Coast coffee podcast has returned for a third season. Stream the newest episodes on The Coast News Podcast page, and be sure to follow Cheers! North County on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Got an interesting story about your drinking adventures? Reach out! I want to hear it.