10 special local drinks perfect for the holidays — or any day

The drinks served up at Venus are a among the area's most inventive.
(Crystal Birns/For Lookout Santa Cruz)

Santa Cruz County sure does produce its fine beverages. And it’s not always just the obvious ones. Here’s a look at 10 good, slightly under-the-radar options for small-gathering social time this holiday season. Cheers!

Just because we aren’t planning for large holiday gatherings this year certainly doesn’t mean we should skimp on quality beverages. There is no better year than this to open that special bottle, savor the good things, and appreciate what we are truly grateful for (perhaps all the amazing beer, wine and spirits producers!).

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Read on for 10 local standouts that will pair perfectly well with any holiday season meal . . . even if it happens to be less-than-traditional this year.

1. Osocalis Brandy

Some Santa Cruzans don’t realize that we have a top-shelf, small-batch brandy distillery right here in Soquel. Osocalis produces an outstanding small lineup of Old-World style brandies (think Cognac and Calvados) using a tiny 100-gallon antique alembic still and local fruit. This stuff is too good to put in your eggnog, so just sip it neat and let it take you to a fantasy of France.

  • You can find Osocalis at local liquor stores, some restaurants and also at Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard in the Swift Street courtyard in Westside. (Winemaker Jeff Emery is a partner/distiller)
  • http://www.osocalis.com/

2. Birichino 2016 Jurassic Park Vineyard Sparkling Chenin Blanc

The fruit for this wine comes from a well-regarded vineyard site down in the Santa Ynez Valley, with 40-year-old Chenin Blanc plantings. Birichino excels at showcasing the mineral-rich site, and this special Méthode Champenoise wine is just lovely.

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3. Stirm 2019 Wirz Vineyard Old Vine Rosé

Winemaker Ryan Stirm is known for his Rieslings, of which he has a strong drive to showcase the nuanced characteristics this variety can express. He has been sourcing fruit from the old vine plantings at Wirz Vineyard in Cienega Valley for quite some time, and making this interesting Rosé with 95% Riesling and 5% Zinfandel from the same site. It is unique. Plus everyone knows that Rosé goes great with turkey.

SARA

4. Sante Adairius Rustic Ales “Cask 200”

This is a solera-style saison, which means a little bit of fresh beer is added each time this ongoing batch is bottled (this is batch No. 11), re-fermenting in newer, perhaps surprising ways. The folks at SARA like to say that their Cask 200 “is a celebration of the unexpected and an experiment in variation,” which is a very fitting metaphor for this year, don’t you think?

5. Humble Sea Sangiovese

The “Kooks Club” is Humble Sea’s membership-only beer program that gets you all their best bottles of barrel aged stouts, pastry stouts, and mixed fermentation saisons and farmhouse ales. But even if you can’t quite swing getting into that club, you can still try some very cool things besides their lineup of popular juicy, hazy, foggy and creamy brews. Like this beer-meets-wine sour, made with Sangiovese and Cabernet grapes.

  • Visit the brewery at 820 Swift St. in Westside or have it delivered to your door via their website
  • https://humblesea.com/

6. Sante Arcangeli 2018 Split Rail Vineyard Pinot Noir

Out of 32,000 wines considered for Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate Top 100 Wine Discoveries of 2020, this wine made the list. That’s a proud moment for John Benedetti, who makes a series of impressive pinot noirs under his Sante Arcangeli label. And Pinot Noir is a very nice choice for the Thanksgiving table for its soft, subtle, light-bodied flexibility.

  • Find it anywhere wine is sold in Santa Cruz County or visit the tasting room at 154 Aptos Village Way in Aptos
  • www.santewinery.com
cider

7. Santa Cruz Cider Co. Sparkling Cuvee

Here is another traditionally made bubbly to try, although instead of grapes it is made with apples. The family behind Santa Cruz Cider Co., who recently opened up a cidery in Watsonville (an epicenter of heritage apple orchards), is all about showcasing local fruit in their hand-crafted small-batch ciders.

8. Venus Spirits Aquavit

Sure, everyone knows about Venus Gin No. 01: It is all over town, all over the state, all over the country. And for good reason: Sean Venus makes great gin. But it would be sad if you never tried his Aquavit. This caraway, citrus stunner is in reverence to the traditional Scandinavian spirit. Try it in your next Bloody Mary (Thanksgiving morning? Or Friday after?) and you will not be disappointed.

Viognier

9. Cooper-Garrod 2018 Viognier

This wine from the Cooper-Garrod Estate Vineyards in Saratoga, a historic, family-run organic and sustainable estate, has been a favorite, year after year. It is at once bright and crisp yet full and floral, and will be nice to sip on at any point during your meal (or before).

  • The Viognier is available at most places wine is sold countywide
  • www.cgv.com

10. Equinox 2017 Sparkling Fiano Cuvee

Can you tell that I’m a fan of sparkling beverages? They are hard to pass up when it comes to any kind of celebration or any time you are looking for food pairings. This example comes from Barry Jackson’s Equinox label, a long-standing bubbly maker who specializes in Méthode Champenoise wines using local grapes. Examples of Fiano growing in California are rare, and this wine is a fun one.