On the Rocks: The Beekeeper’s Hot Toddy

This recipe is part of our series On the Rocks: Exploring Science and Nature through Curated Cocktails.

As winter temperatures drop below 50 °F, honey bees (Apis mellifera) will cluster in their hives in a bid to stay warm. In preparation for the winter, bees have to ensure that they have a sufficient supply of honey stored in their combs to see them through the long months when food sources are scarce. Honey is produced after bees ingest nectar from plants and then regurgitate it. This process leads to a product that is naturally sweet and easy to preserve.

Much like honey bees in their hives, we humans can also appreciate staying in our homes to keep warm on a cold winter’s night, perhaps enhanced with a fortifying beverage. Hot toddies are traditionally a way to consume liquor that is warmed with hot water, honey and other spices. This particular recipe evokes an especially smoky flavor, reminiscent of beekeepers using smoke to calm their bees as they work on hives.

The flavor of honey can vary depending on which flowers bees have been collecting nectar from. Try different honeys from your local farmers market or grocery stores to enjoy subtle differences in your toddy recipes.


  • 4 cups hot water
  • 4 bags of black tea (try something like lapsang souchong for extra smoke flavor)
  • 3 slices of lemon (save one for a garnish)
  • Juice of 1 lemon (2 tbsp)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 5-10 cloves
  • 5-10 Black peppercorns
  • 2-4 tbsp honey (adjust depending upon how sweet you prefer it)
  • A smoky liquor like scotch or mezcal

Serving size: 2-4 drinks depending upon the size of your mugs.


Put your water in a saucepan with the cinnamon sticks, and two lemon slices with cloves and peppercorns inserted into them (alternatively, put your spices in cheesecloth if you don’t want to strain them out later). Bring to a boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes to allow the spices to diffuse. Bring your pan off of the heat and add in the honey, lemon juice and tea bags. Make sure the honey dissolves completely and allow the tea to steep for 5 minutes. Serve in a mug with 1.5-2 oz. of an alcohol of your choice or leave it out for a cozy non-alcoholic option. Use cinnamon sticks and a lemon slice for garnish.

Want a version with more kick? Substitute the peppercorns for cayenne or steep a hot pepper in your water.

Post by Liz Broughton

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On the Rocks: The Solstice Sip

This recipe is part of our series On the Rocks: Exploring Science and Nature through Curated Cocktails.

A cocktail in a jar garnished with a sprig of incence cedar leaves in front of a decorated tree.

The winter solstice in the northern hemisphere marks the moment when the northern pole of the Earth’s axis is directed farthest from the sun. There is more darkness on this day than any other, but there is also the promise of new light.

As our region hunkers down into a new Stay-at-Home order, we invite you to cozy up with this Solstice Sip. Powered by the evergreen qualities of the conifers around you, whether from a neighborhood redwood tree or a douglas fir you’ve recently brought inside and covered in twinkle lights, this classic twist on an old fashioned will remind you of the light to come and the light that still flickers, even in these dark times.

**The example shown here features incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens) harvested from a Christmas tree, but other options readily available in Santa Cruz are coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) and Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). The fresher the growth of the sprigs, the richer the flavor. Make sure to properly identify your tree before harvesting because some coniferous may be toxic if ingested (i.e. ponderosa pine or pacific yew).


Evergreen Simple Syrup:

  • A few sprigs from a conifer** (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 cup of sugar

The Solstice Sip cocktail:

  • 1 1/2 oz Bourbon or Rye whiskey
  • 1 tsp Evergreen Simple Syrup
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters


To make the Evergreen Simple Syrup:

  1. Add water, sugar, and conifer sprigs to a small pot and heat over low for 15 minutes.
  2. Remove from heat and let sit for another 15 minutes.
  3. Strain out sprigs and store in a jar in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

To make the Solstice Sip cocktail:

  1. Combine simple syrup and bitters in a glass.
  2. Fill glass halfway with ice, then stir about a dozen times.
  3. Add more ice, enough to fill the glass.
  4. Add whiskey.
  5. Stir just until cold, about a dozen times.
  6. Garnish with a sprig of your chosen conifer.

Post by Marisa Gomez

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On the Rocks: Pumpkin Pie Tai

Pumpkin pie tai cocktail in a glass

This recipe is part of our series On the Rocks: Exploring Science and Nature through Curated Cocktails.

Autumn is a season of transitions. Darkness noticeably overtakes light more rapidly everyday and months of drought along the Central Coast of California are dampened by the first rains of the season.

There is also a last minute abundance of activity in preparation for shorter, wetter days. Manzanita berries, tan oak acorns, and pine seeds are accompanied by a flurry of wildlife in active pursuit of additions to caches and fat reserves. Buffleheads and goldeneyes return to the river, while the terns and shearwaters leave the Bay. The bigleaf maple becomes a cloud of gold and the conifers remain ever green.

While spring reminds us of rejuvenation, fall recalls the dormancy of nature. Yet in the darkness, the promises of spring ruminate. Seeds that dropped days and months ago rest, wait, and are protected by the soil. As the sun retreats and the fruits fall and the collectors gather their winter rations, each minute of daylight is more precious than the last.

In a spirit of gratitude we offer the following recipe in celebration of abundance, even as the world around us grows darker. So gather up your fall gourds, your squash, your pumpkins. Stew the flesh, plant the seeds, and save a little for this tasty treat.


Pumpkin Seed Simple Syrup:

  • ½ cup of pumpkin seeds
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 cup of sugar

Pumpkin Pie Tai:

  • ¾ oz pumpkin seed simple syrup
  • 2 oz dark rum
  • ¼ oz allspice dram (or just add some ground allspice)
  • ¾ oz lime
  • 3 tbsp pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup ice


To make the Pumpkin Seed Simple Syrup:

  1. Gather seeds from your chosen squash, gourd, or pumpkin (at least ½ cup)
  2. Rinse and dry the seeds
  3. Remove seeds from shells by trimming the edges of the shells with scissors and popping out the seed from within (optional, and interesting!)
  4. Grind ½ cup of seeds in a blender until a powdery consistency
  5. Add 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar to blender and mix until smooth
  6. Strain through a coffee filter into a jar. Note: This can take awhile! Just let it sit and do it’s thing. You can also use cheesecloth.
  7. Good for a few weeks in the refrigerator

To make the Pumpkin Pie Tai:

  1. Combine all ingredients
  2. Blend until smooth
  3. Serve over ice
  4. Garnish with your favorite fall spice

Post by Marisa Gomez

On the Rocks: Foraged Liqueur

This recipe is part of our series On the Rocks: Exploring Science and Nature through Curated Cocktails.

During summer months and into early fall, California’s native berry-producing plants provide humans and wildlife alike with a delicious source of nutrients.

[Gathering fruit] required an intimate familiarity with nature and natural patterns. … Indians watched the other animals and linked their behaviors with the ripening of the fruit. Goldfinches, for example, would begin to whistle more frequently when it was time for the Foothills Yokuts to gather blackberries. Keeping a close watch on weather patterns was also important. For example, rosehips…tasted sweetest after the first light frost or cold nights of fall. The Karuk harvested California huckleberries after the first frost because that was when they were sweetest.

Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources by Kat Anderson, 2005

While there are many edible uses for our native berry varieties, a few species are particularly useful for making liqueurs to add a little local flavor to your cocktail game. Our favorites are California blackberry (Rubus ursinus), pink flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum), and blue elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp. cerulea). Explore our foraging guide before you go out on the hunt and then try your hand at making your own liqueur with our recipe (below).

Foraging Ethics

Before you forage from natural landscapes, it’s important to Know Before You Go. Research the rules and regulations for the landscapes you hope to explore, study the species you may find, and be prepared to identify them accurately. Once you identify the species you would like to forage and you are confident that you are legally allowed to, consider how to do so in a way that does not cause harm. Only take what you will use and leave enough for wildlife.

Biologist of Potawatomi heritage Robin Wall Kimmerer provides an excellent blueprint for ethical foraging based on the indigenous principles of the Honorable Harvest:

Know the ways of the ones who take care of you, so that you may take care of them.
Introduce yourself. Be accountable as the one who comes asking for life. Ask permission before taking. Abide by the answer.
Never take the first. Never take the last. Take only what you need.
Use it respectfully. Never waste what you have taken. Share.
Give thanks for what you have been given.
Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken.
Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever.

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings by Robin Wall Kimmerer, 2013

Species and Seasons

Here’s when you are likely to find ripe fruit for the three native species you can use in our liqueur recipe:

Blue elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp. cerulea): July and August
Pink flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum): July and August
California blackberry (Rubus ursinus): April through September

Liqueur Recipe

elderberry liqueur


  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 cup vodka
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup ripe berries


  1. Shake together the water, vodka, and sugar to dissolve sugar.
  2. Gently mix together with the berries.
  3. Leave to infuse about 10-12 days until the berries have lost most of their color.
  4. Pour through a fine strainer and discard the berries.
  5. Pour into bottle of your choice to use for months to come!

Make a Macabre Martini with your liqueur!

On the Rocks: The Macabre Martini

This recipe is part of our series On the Rocks: Exploring Science and Nature through Curated Cocktails.

In works of art, macabre refers to a grim or ghastly atmosphere. At the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, it heralds a season of oddities — when we turn our attention to the nooks and crannies of nature, looking for the strange, the puzzling, and the disturbing.

In honor of our annual event of creatures, curiosities, and cocktails, Museum of the Macabre, we’re mixing things up with a special concoction to give you pause — and we mean that! This cocktail requires some toil and trouble, but it’s well worth it in the end.

The Macabre Martini is a mysterious mixture, obscured by the darkness of a homemade sesame syrup. Another way to reach this deep black color is with activated charcoal, though you should look into the risks if you are on any medications.

Looking to add a little local flora to your cup? Substitute the crème de mûre with a homemade blackberry, elderberry, or black currant liqueur.

A black liquid in a martini glass lined with a black sesame seed rim.


Macabre Martini:

  • 1 oz gin
  • 2 oz crème de mûre (or homemade berry liqueur)
  • 2 oz black sesame syrup (see below for instructions)
  • 1 oz lime juice
  • 1 large egg white
  • Blackberries for garnish

Black sesame syrup:

  • 1 cup black sesame seeds
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water (or more as needed)
  • zest of half a lime
  • 2 oz vodka


To make the black sesame syrup:

  1. Toast the black sesame seeds in a saucepan over medium heat for about 2 minutes while constantly moving them around in the pan. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  2. Blend the seeds in a food processor, coffee grinder, or blender until they are a powder and set aside.
  3. Put the sugar, water, and lime zest in a small saucepan and bring to a low simmer, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. 
  4. Add the black sesame seed powder and bring to a boil. Let bubble for 2 minutes. 
  5. Remove from the heat and leave to cool completely.
  6. Strain through a fine mesh sieve, and then again through cheesecloth, so you have a smooth and thick syrup. This is the trickiest part!
  7. Stir in the vodka. It will keep in the fridge for up to three months, so feel free to make this part in advance.

To make the Macabre Martini:

  1. Line the rim of a martini glass with leftover sesame seeds by first running a lime wedge around the edge and then dunking the edge in the seeds.
  2. Put all the cocktail ingredients in a shaker and shake vigorously for 60 seconds.
  3. Add three ice cubes, and shake again for 30 seconds or until cocktail feels cold through the shaker. 
  4. Strain into a martini glass.

Explore our Museum of the Macabre line-up of events and activities.