For many years—or so they say—Santa has made his home the snowy North Pole. But this year, things are a little different as the big man heads to the South Pacific for the ultimate mashup of kitschy tiki and tacky Christmas. And if your idea of getting into the holiday spirit is throwing back a boozy rum concoction under twinkling lights and an explosion of tinsel, then you’re in luck.
Making the season both boozy and bright, Sippin’ Santa is the brainchild of the people behind Miracle, the nine-years-running, uber-popular Christmas pop-up founded by Greg Boehm. Similar to its predecessor, Sippin’ Santa partners with popular tropical and tiki-skewing cocktail dens across North America for the ultimate in merriment as they transform their establishments into Christmas wonderlands.
Nearly forty bars have been selected to participate this year, including San Diego’s acclaimed The Grass Skirt and newcomer The Royal Tot in Charlotte, North Carolina. Pop-ups begin around Thanksgiving and typically last through the end of the year with each location’s décor distinctly their own.
Whether you’re on the naughty or nice list this year, all guests visiting a Sippin’ Santa location can expect a standout cocktail menu.
In addition to the wildly immersive atmosphere, critical care and thought goes into creating themed menus that round out this multi-sensory experience. The program tapped one of the most important figures in the modern tiki movement, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, for the well-rounded cocktail menu, with drinks ranging from tributes to the golden era of tiki to modern twists.
Named one of the 25 Most Influential Cocktail Personalities, Berry is the owner of the highly regarded New Orleans tiki bar Latitude 29 and author of countless books on cocktails. He’s also credited with discovering lost vintage recipes from tiki’s heyday.
The pairing of Christmas and tiki bars was an easy one when Sippin’ Santa began. “Christmas makes people happy. Tiki makes people happy,” Berry says. “So, a mashup between Christmas decor and tiki decor makes the Sippin’ Santa experience twice as transportive. We’re doubling your holiday fun by combining your Christmas vacation with your tropical island getaway.”
The process is a collaborative one between partner bars and Sippin’ Santa’s team. General Manager, Joann Spiegel, carefully vets each applicant while on the prowl for bars that embrace great hospitality, atmosphere, and above all, talented mixologists up for the challenge of expertly creating these drinkable masterpieces.
At the center of it all is the art of making handcrafted cocktails—and when it comes to flavors, there’s an inherent synergy between tiki and Christmas. “The flavors and aromas of the holidays, such as nutmeg, clove, cinnamon and allspice, are already ingredients in tropical drinks like the Zombie or Nui Nui,” Berry says. “So the two styles vibe with each other in a natural, unforced way.”
The program’s namesake cocktail, the Sippin’ Santa, pairs aged demerara rum with amaro, lemon, orange and gingerbread mix for a one-two punch of booze-forward festive cheer. The Jingle Bird, a twist on the retro 1970s classic Jungle Bird, combines pineapple rum, bourbon, Campari and lime with a housemade “jingle mix.”
“The challenge is to transform familiar seasonal flavors into something fresh and different,” Berry shares. “You can’t just add holiday baking spices to a tiki drink, you have to find tropical flavors that accent and enhance those spices in an exciting way. Sometimes that’s done not by complementing them but through counterpoint. For example, by blending a sweet, rich, apple-maple-cranberry syrup with its opposite number, an astringent, highly acidic citrus element.”
Shots are also thrown into the mix—because ‘tis the season—so expect to find shots like the Top Shelf Elf, which uses tiki standards like house spiced rum, falernum and cinnamon. There’s also a little of the unexpected to be found, like the Holiday On Ice, a caffeine-laden cold brew cocktail with cinnamon syrup and ancho chile liqueur.
Menus feature a little something for everyone, from die-hard tiki enthusiasts to those just dipping their toes into one of the most lauded cocktail genres. Berry calls this year’s Rudolph’s Rum Rhapsody “a throwback to the classic mid-century, multi-ingredient tiki ethos.” The drink combines Jamaican and Puerto Rican rums with citrus, falernum, honey, ginger and aromatic bitters.
For tiki newbies? “I’d start with the Island of Misfit Toys because it’s a very approachable… recipe. On the tiki side, it’s got Jamaican rum, lemon and chai tea. These tropical ingredients get an added layer of holiday flavor by blending them with cinnamon and a pumpkin-spiced cream.”
Sippin’ Santa shows no sign of slowing down when it comes to spreading the holiday cheer. What began with just three partner bars in 2015 has expanded over three-fold in just a number of years. “It’s a veritable Christmas miracle,” Berry concludes.