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Meet Jessica Christensen, the mastermind behind Graton Resort & Casino’s unforgettable drink experiences

By Lisa Robertson-Dziedzic


Introducing Jessica Christensen, the visionary behind the mesmerizing and innovative drink experiences at Graton Resort & Casino in Rohnert Park, CA. As the esteemed mixologist orchestrating the diverse range of lounges and bars within the resort, Jessica seamlessly blends creativity with expertise in venues celebrated for their unique vibes. From the refined allure of the Sky Lounge to the dynamic atmosphere of G Bar, the elegant charm of Lobby Bar, the breezy vibes of Pool Bar, the exclusive aura of 8 Bar, and the sophisticated ambiance of 630 Park Bar, Jessica’s flair shines as she concocts signature drinks perfectly attuned to each venue’s character.

Casino Player had the chance to interview Jessica to uncover the magic behind her creations.


CP: What inspires your creative process when crafting unique drinks for a casino resort bar or lounge?

JC: I don’t think I can pick out one thing in particular that inspires my creative process, it can be so many different things depending on maybe what outlet I am working on, or if it is a seasonal or holiday-inspired cocktail. I am a huge fan of tasting new things, learning new techniques, and a lot of the time I will bring them into something I am creating and see what I can make. I also love to utilize cocktails that came from the Prohibition era. They are some of my favorite drinks to sip on and truly are just staples, and I just take a recipe and think of things I can switch out or experiment with something fun and new.


What are some cocktail trends to watch for in 2024?

I am seeing a lot of bars and bartenders utilizing unique ingredients; lots of vegetal items or unique fruits you don’t hear of often. I saw ube being used almost everywhere I looked at one point, and it is so fun to see these kinds of items being incorporated in completely different ways. I think people are starting to look at cocktails as an entire experience now, with different layers of flavor and aroma, along with a visual aspect as well.


Can you share some examples of unique or unexpected ingredients you’ve incorporated into your cocktails to add a distinctive touch?

I just started this program for the casino about two years ago, so I have been slowly adding in new things or techniques just a little bit at a time. I have been adding in more savory ingredients like herbs and peppers. I have also been working with different ingredients in foams to add different flavor profiles to it, like sage or thyme with liqueurs.


How do you incorporate local or seasonal elements into your drink creations?

Living in Northern California, I feel lucky to be in an area with so many amazing local ingredients around us that we can use. Every season I come out with a cocktail special, and I always build it around what items are in season. For our menus I usually edit them to cover half the year, so I have ingredients geared to fall/winter in some cocktails. Then I will switch to them being more focused on spring/summer ingredients.


How do you balance creating drinks that are both visually appealing and offer a memorable taste experience for guests?

First, I make sure that the cocktail is balanced and flavorful. Then I add in a different layer like a spritz of bitters on top, citrus zests, floats, foams, etc. Something to add in some sort of aroma to the drink as well so you get that sense first before even tasting the cocktail. Then I focus on how to make the drink look as visually appealing as it can by maybe using a large cube with our logo on it, what glass it will look the best in, or a garnish that fits with the ingredients in the drink.


In a bustling casino environment, how do you ensure that your cocktails stand out and contribute to an overall positive guest experience?

In a casino, it can be very fast paced and busy on certain days, which I must consider when creating cocktails for the bars. It is a hard balance sometimes to create something that can be slightly easier to make but still creates a memorable experience for a guest. I try working with items like foams, floral or visually appealing garnishes, and fun flavors and ingredients so that the cocktail can still be slightly on the quicker side of creating it, but still taste amazing and bring a visual component that makes other guests want it when they see it.


What are your thoughts on the current cocktail trends? Are there specific trends that you, as a mixologist, particularly enjoy and would like to see continue? On the flip side, are there any trends that you think have run their course and would be happy to see fade away?

I love watching the cocktail trends. It’s fun to see what other bars and people in the industry are doing and coming up with. I loved seeing coffee/espresso cocktails make a big return, and the specialized ice cubes for cocktails are super fun. I enjoyed most of what I saw because I truly feel that cocktails are meant to be unique and different, and we should always be pushing to encourage new inspiring ideas. I also loved seeing more of a minimalistic style again this year—a lot of simple, elegant garnishes that aren’t over the top or wasteful. Personally, I don’t think I need to see any fade away. If it is not something you’re into you don’t have to make it or order it!



Bottoms UP: Cojito

1 ¼ oz. Rumhaven Caribbean Rum

¾ oz. Chareau Aloe Liqueur

¾ oz. Coconut Puree, fresh muddled mint leaves

¾ oz. lime juice

Shaken and strained over fresh ice and topped with Champagne. Garnished with fresh mint sprigs and an edible flower.

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