Five to Try
Temecula Valley's innovative craft cocktail scene
By Courtney Kemp
Many are familiar with Temecula's wines and beautiful, sprawling estate vineyards. They know its charming accommodations encourage leisurely stays, and its exceptional dining makes every meal a special treat. Rejuvenating spas and rounds of golf keep everyone happily entertained, too. But I have recently discovered another delicious treat: an abundance of innovative craft cocktails. Check out the five below, which complement Southern California's sunshine, golden sunsets and relaxing vistas.
1909: Cedar Smoked Old Fashioned
Step through the impressive, oversized barn door-style entrance of 1909 gastropub in Old Town Temecula. Housed in a century-old structure that has been home to a trading post, auto shop and notorious saloon, its newest incarnation as a pub is equal parts rustic and modern. The expert blending of new and old extends to their craft cocktail program, which features a show-stopping twist on the classic Old Fashioned. Pull up a seat to the expansive wood and metal bar and prepare to be wowed as the bartender works his or her magic with a blowtorch, scorching a block of cedar wood before flipping your glass on top to capture the swirling smoke. While your glass soaks up the aromas and flavor of cedar smoke, the bartender stirs the perfect Old Fashioned—top notch whiskey, bitters and fresh orange peel. That first sip is one with a bite of whiskey, tempered by citrus and coerced into the 21st century with those smoky undertones. This is the kind of place you can kick up your heels—or boots—in comfort and style.
Avensole Winery: Avensole Sunset
It is impossible to ignore the views at Avensole Winery. Perched on a hill with sprawling valley and vineyard vistas, their impeccably designed outdoor patio is the ideal location to enjoy time with friends while experiencing a cherished Southern California tradition: sunset. Luckily, Avensole has the perfect accompaniment to sunsets—beautifully crafted cocktails. In addition to their vineyard that produces five varietals of wine, Avensole has a cocktail program featuring small batch liquor, fresh juices, house-made syrups and seasonal ingredients. As the sky transforms from azure to a gold, my friends and I like to toast the setting sun from the comfort of outdoor sofas. My favorite cocktail during this time is the Avensole Sunset. Taking its cue from the orange sky, this cocktail highlights local ingredients with handcrafted small-batch artisanal California rye whiskey, freshly squeezed juice from local lemons and house-made simple syrup, topped with a 2012 Avensole Merlot floater. Take a moment to admire the beautiful layered colors in this work of art, then indulge in an intricate yet refreshing drink that celebrates Southern California citrus and craftsmanship.
The Vineyard Rose: Jack of Hearts
The Vineyard Rose is a respite from our hurried daily lives. Located inside the Tuscan-inspired South Coast Winery Resort & Spa, The Vineyard Rose boasts sprawling estate views and a selection of local beers on tap, South Coast’s award-winning wines and seasonal craft cocktails. I opted for their Jack of Hearts, which is the definition of summer in a glass. The bartender nimbly filled an iced cocktail shaker with sliced strawberries, simple syrup, South Coast Black Jack Port and freshly squeezed lemon juice, vigorously shaking before straining the luscious concoction into an ice-filled wine glass. A splash of club soda and a garnish of cucumber, lemon and strawberry completed the beautiful and refreshing cocktail. It is the perfect late afternoon pick-me-up to enjoy after exploring South Coast Winery’s expansive grounds and vineyards.
Cork | Fire Kitchen: Last King
Cork | Fire Kitchen is the kind of place you wish could be your permanent home. The moment I stepped inside the sun-soaked bar and lounge, I was in love. From the rustic yet refined décor—including roll-up glass garage doors that transform the lounge into an indoor/outdoor patio—to the local, farm-focused menu, it is the definition of breezy, sophisticated California living. The local focus extends to their cocktail program, too. A fresh herb garden is located outside, which provides the harvest for their seasonal garden cocktails, and they have six liquor aging barrels in house. Their Last King—a twist on the classic Manhattan—illustrates this hyper-local, in-house focus. Reserve bourbon is blended with house-made orange liqueur, house-aged vermouth, Campari, orange bitters and finished with a sweet cherry. This smooth and decadent drink is the perfect accompaniment to an afternoon spent relaxing on the lounge’s cheerful yellow Chesterfield sofas with the one you love.
Heart of the House: Spiked Herbal Citrus Punch
You want fresh food and drinks in a relaxed yet chic environment where you are treated like family. That’s Heart of the House. During the day, the dining room is a bright, modern space with stark museum-quality walls juxtaposed with joyful, turquoise upholstered chairs. At night it transforms into a romantic lounge with warm, glowing lights. My husband and I were equally impressed with their Mediterranean-meets-California cuisine, deliciously fresh cocktails and friendly service. New to their spring and summer cocktail menu is an invigorating Spiked Herbal Citrus Punch. Based on a citrus punch the co-owner’s mom used to make, this delectable, herby, summery libation fuses fresh basil, rosemary and mint, house-made simple syrup, soju and freshly squeezed grapefruit, orange and lime juices. This is childhood nostalgia all grown up, and it pairs beautifully with the restaurant’s equally sophisticated ceviche, lemongrass-crusted mahi mahi and marinated spicy jerk chicken any time of day.
Insider tip: Heart of the House presents a special menu with chef prepared paella, tapas, sangria and live music the last Sunday of every month.
No matter what libation you fancy, you'll find a new and tempting craft cocktail in Temecula Valley. Cheers!