It was nearly three years ago when Oliver Lee, 30, heard of an opening at a Four Seasons restaurant in California. Having honed his bar tending and managing skills at a Four Seasons Hotel in his native St. Louis, he figured it was time to move out West. After a brief stint in Palo Alto, Lee is now the bar manager at the Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco, which will be open to holiday travelers and families this Christmas. And to make his guests feel at home, Lee prepares a Wassail from an old family recipe. 757 Market St. Fifth Floor, San Francisco, www.fourseasons.com/sanfrancisco, (415) 633-3000
What’s the history behind this beverage?
It’s actually from the 1700s. It’s an organic apple cider. Everything that has to do with Christmas … is jammed in there. There’s an old song called “Here we go a-Wassailing.” Wassailing is when people would walk house-to-house singing the Christmas carols. They would take Wassail with them, No. 1 because it was alcohol … and because you always need alcohol when singing. It just opens you up because of the spices and the lemons … it’s so good, especially for when you’re going out in the cold. It always sells best on cold days.
How did you become an expert in preparing this beverage?
Every holiday at my mom’s house, she would always put this in one of those crockpots. You know, the kind of thing that makes meat really bad, but makes cider really good. When people started making it, there were different alcohols around. Pirates put rum in it, the Scots put scotch and everybody else put what they wanted. I found that most people, including myself, like a little bit of the sweetness of spiced rum. It’s definitely one of those things that there is no recipe for.
How is it spending your time at the Seasons bar during holidays?
It’s cool. Here at the Four Seasons, we do big holidays. Especially for days like Thanksgiving and Christmas, we get to have all the families. I always think of it as, in San Francisco, nobody has a house big enough to have everybody over. … So we get all these big families that come in. And to see how much joy they have in having a meal together is the really nice part. And Wassail makes me feel like I’m at home.
What does your wife say about you working on holidays?
My wife is a very altruistic person; she’s a kindergarten teacher. She’s a giving person. And every once and while, she comes around, too. We end up having holidays at weird times.
What would you say is the theme of the Seasons bar?
We’re very diverse and upscale, but accessible. We try to do new and innovative things with our cocktail list and we try to provide the best service level we can. You can go to a lot of bars that have great cocktails, but they don’t have the great personalized service that we do here. We try to create a great, memorable experience every time.
- 1 gallon of whole apple juice
- 1 cup of fresh lemon juice
- 1 cup of fresh orange juice
- Peels of 3 lemons
- Peels of 3 oranges
- ¹/8 cup whole allspice
- ¹/8 cup whole cloves
- 12 cinnamon sticks
- 1 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
- Kraken spiced rum
Stud the cloves into the lemon and orange peels. Combine everything into a large pot on the stove, bring to a low boil and turn heat low. Take off heat. Pour through a strainer. Add four parts cider to one part spiced rum (Kraken). Garnish with clove-studded lemon peel.