Beyond Pumpkin Spice – Flavorful Fall Cocktails for Chilly Nights

November 18, 2017

There is something forever inviting about the fine flavors of fall. No, I’m not talking about pumpkin spice—whatever that is. Apple cider, maple, cinnamon and clove; the very mention of these ingredients warms the soul. Their presence beats back the impending chill of abbreviated daylight. They also make for incredible cocktails, which is why this season might just be the best time of the year for craft drinkers. Helping to state the case are these lovely libations from across the land.


Autumn hits hard in the northeast, so bartenders here are particularly adept at preparing seasonal variations to provide an ingredient-driven jacket. At Benedetto, an amari haven inside the Charles Hotel in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Beverage Director Charles Coykendall finds warmth in spirits led by alpine essence. “When I think of cold weather, I think of Chartreuse,” he says. “I love working with it this time of year.”

In his Tailspin, a riff on the classic Bijou, Coykendall enhances the mysterious elixir of the French alps with Citadelle Gin, Carpano Antica vermouth and a touch of Campari. The finishing touch is a dash of cacao bitters, for an added fragrance of fall. “It’s an Italian version of what is essentially a French cocktail,” he explains.

Tailspin Cocktail / Photo Credit: Brad Japhe


In Manhattan, Marlon Tulaszewski of Polo Bar finds fire in smoke. His Craighouse Cheer is built around Jura 10—a lightly peaty single malt from the western edge of Scotland. Against it, he steadies a sturdy port and pure Vermont maple syrup. “The port and maple syrup balance out the tartness of fresh lemon, letting the subtly smoky flavors of Jura 10 shine through,” he observes. “Heavier-bodied than most citrus drinks, this is a surprisingly substantive cocktail perfect for the holiday season.”

Craighouse Cheer / Photo Credit: Polo Bar


Further Uptown, Shawn Chen of RedFarm is pleasing his patrons with an inspired upgrade on the classic Hot Toddy. The Teatime Toddy uses Slane Irish Whiskey alongside Osmanthus Oolong Tea with a touch of Benedictine. This heated cocktail is presented in a teacup with clove-studded lemon and mint. The tea gives a bit of a smoky flavor which, explains Chen, “complements the whiskey and the spice notes of the ginger and Benedictine.”

The gentle, but exotic Eastern spice lends itself as ideal accompaniment to the restaurant’s playful “Pac Man” shrimp dumplings. Chen is fond of infusing ginger into his drinks this time of year, a food-friendly additive which also imparts a lasting warmth in every sip.

Slane Irish Whiskey / Photo Credit: Slane Irish Whiskey


Not even Texas is safe from the occasional autumn gust. In Austin, at Licha’s Cantina, barman Daniel Brooks beats it back with an unlikely combination. He’s currently pouring GEM & BOLT mezcal with Damiana tea and pineapple juice in a drink he calls The Chaparrita. Topped with basil leaf, it offers herbal aromatics along with a soothing finish from the Damiana, which is said to enhance sexual and digestive health.

The Chapparita / Photo Credit: Lichas Cantina


If it’s too brisk even to amble over to your local watering hole, experimenting with fall cocktails at home is an easy workaround. Sometimes it comes from the modifiers and garnishes, other times from the spirit itself. Basil Hayden’s newest Dark Rye, for example, works wonders in a straightforward Boulevardier revamp, with the elements combining to evoke elements of cinnamon and allspice.

1.5 parts rye
.75 parts Campari
.75 parts Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth
3 dashes of orange bitters

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir. Strain into a chilled glass and serve up. Garnish with an orange peel.

Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye / Photo Credit: Basil Hayden’s


Warmed cocktail fans will find much to love in the Northwest Passage—a comforting American whiskey sendup with a quieting edge of nuttiness. At its base is Midwinter Night’s Dram from High West—a blend of ryes finished in French oak and Port barrels, imparting smoothness and a beautiful burgundy hue.

1.5 oz High West Midwinter Night’s Dram
2 lemon slices
0.5 oz hazelnut syrup
3 oz hot water
Cinnamon stick garnish

Heat up a goblet with hot water to warm the glass, discard hot water, muddle 2 lemon slices in heated goblet, add the rest of the ingredients, stir in the glass, garnish with cinnamon stick.

Northwest Passage / Photo Credit: Timothy Krause

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