Summer has its endless variations on the Margarita and Daiquiri to refresh us, while winter’s cocktail menus are full of warming beverages to help take off the chill. Where does that leave fall, the season of back-to-school and back-to-sweaters, of Haloween and the World Series? Autumn’s influences on the bar menu can be harder to pin down, but the season does offer a chance to take a classy and sophisticated approach with to your cocktails.
The fashion parade for autumn cocktails generally sees bartenders moving away from the white spirits and toward the deep, rich tones of brown spirits. It’s the season to celebrate the flavors of bourbon and Scotch, rum and vermouth, in drinks that tend to exude some retro perspectives and sophistication. In other words, “Bring on the Manhattans and Old-Fashioneds!” Brandy and its multitude of variations also find their way into concoctions that help make the transition from summer to winter a smooth one.
Tony Abou-Ganim, beverage specialist for Bellagio in Las Vegas, considers making cocktails suit the season the way a chef considers which dishes to put on a seasonal menu. First, he thinks about the ingredients that are at their best, as well as products that are a natural fit for the season. At the mention of fall, he’s immediately reminded of apple season and growing up in Michigan, which meant trips to the local apple mill, which invariably also meant hot apple cider and cinnamon-dusted doughnuts. He thinks, too, of pumpkin pie and fresh harvested honey and steaming hot cocoa. A very popular drink he pours at the Bellagio is the Cable Car, a blend of spiced rum, orange curacao and house-made sweet and sour, served in a glass rimmed with cinnamon-sugar and garnished with a twist of orange zest.
Marie Maher made a big splash with her bar menu at last year’s high profile Manhattan spot, Beacon. She’s moved out to the ‘burbs where Beacon has opened its second location in Stamford, CT, but the perspective is the same. Maher looks at fall as stop on the way from the white spirits of summer on the way to heavier bourbon- and brandy-based drinks that dominate during the winter.
“Brandy and bourbon cocktails can be overwhelming on a still-bright day with lovely fall colors outside,” notes Maher, who prefers to not go overboard on the heavier drinks until winter’s chill has really set in. For fall she starts to pour more rums and lighter scotch such as Cutty Sark, as with her Highlander, a belend of Cutty Sark, calvados, Cointreau and lemon juice.
Like Abou-Ganim, Maher thinks of apples, especially apple pie,when fall comes to town. She created the Ichabod Crane to replicate the warmly spiced flavors of the classic fall pie. The glass is rimmed with cinnamon-sugar and filled with a blend of Goldschlagger, maraschino liqueur and apple juice. “It’s very fall, really does taste like apple pie,” notes Maher.
Among Maher’s bar list of year-round favorites is one that she feels is particularly at home in the fall. The Rumpus is based on a house-concocted ginger “beer” (a non-carbonated secret infusion), with Gosling rum, fresh lime juice and simple syrup. It offers the ideal balance of the warming richness of rum with some refreshing zing from the ginger and lime.
In Los Angeles, Traxx restaurant opened about three years ago in the city’s Union Station. The crowd they draw is an eclectic mix of commuters and tourists, making it a very “L.A.” destination. Traxx sommelier and mixologist Jason Baker notes that fall is a more sophisticated time of year for drinking in the bar, as we begin moving towards holidays and the wave of social engagements that the season brings.
One of his cocktail creations that he feels is a perfect fit for the fall is the Dat Lahara Punch, inspired by a visit to the West Indies. The white- and dark-rum based punch gets a dose of fruit-tempering balance from sweet vermouth, which Baker says gives the drink a more grown-up appeal.
Another way to emphasize seasonal elements is certainly with a cocktail’s garnish. Baker, who commonly visits the nearby farmer’s market for inspiration and ingredients, has employed such seasonal touches as miniature apples, pickled green beans, kumquats and South African gooseberries to add distinction to seasonal cocktails.
Whether you’re in a part of the country that sees four distinct seasons or not, fall is nonetheless a time of transition from light refreshing summer cocktails to the heftier drinks of wintertime. There’s a shuffle on the back bar to make room for more scotch and maybe clear out some of those myriad vodkas. Traditions of the season