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5 Fall Cocktails to Capture the Flavors of Autumn

The flavors of fall are comforting and familiar, like an old sweater pulled from storage or the back of your closet. But fall cocktail flavors also give bartenders a chance to get creative. If you’re turning the page with your cocktail menu this fall, then think of flavors that are warming and ripe with nostalgia. Spice and apple,  smokey and nutty; fall cocktails should boast big flavors without being overwhelming. Let’s dive into the leaf pile to explore 5 fall cocktails that are perfect for warming your guests on a cool night.

A Classic Twist: Walnut Manhattan

Image of Walnut Manhattan for 5 Fall Cocktails to Capture the Flavor of AutumnThis twist on the Manhattan adds walnut liqueur to the simple cocktail recipe of whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters. Walnut adds a rich, dessert like flavor to play off the cocktail’s herbal dryness. It’s a perfect after dinner drink. The most recognizable walnut liqueur is Nocino, hailing from Italy. But if you’ve got the DIY spirit then you can make your own walnut liqueur in-house.

Cocktail Recipe:

2 oz. George Dickel Rye Whiskey 

.75 oz. Dolin Sweet Vermouth

.5 oz Nocino Walnut liqueur

2-3 dashes of angostura bitters

Garnish with lemon swath*

Method: Add all ingredients to cocktail mixing glass, add ice, stir 25-30 seconds, or until the mixing glass is cold to the touch. Pour into martini glass or rock glass. Ice is optional for rocks glass. Express lemon swath and drop in drink.

*Lemon swath is a better fit for this manhattan variation because it balances the rich and oily texture of the walnut liqueur.

What makes it a fall cocktail: The nutty sweetness of walnut liqueur has light spiced notes and the overall taste is like that of a baked good.

Fall Cocktail Favorites: Apple Brandy and Bourbon

Like all brandy, apple brandy’s popularity has declined, with the spirit buried deep on the bench of go-to spirits for American drinkers. Which is a shame, because it makes a damn good cocktail. Mixing it with a spicy, high-rye bourbon will combine two of the best fall flavors: apple and spice.

Cocktail Recipe:

.75 oz. Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy*

.75 oz. Four Roses’s Bourbon

.5 oz. Yellow Chartreuse

.5 oz Ginger Simple Syrup

.5 oz. Lemon Juice

Garnish with apple slice**

*You can substitute Laird’s Applejack for the apple brandy here. Applejack is a mix of apple brandy and neutral spirits.

**For efficiency you should pre-cut your apple slices. To keep cut apple slices from browning, keep slices in a mixture of lemon juice and water.

Method: Add lemon juice, ginger simple syrup, and then liquor to cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake for 15 – 20 seconds. Fine strain into an old fashioned glass and add large ice cube.

What makes it a fall cocktail: Well, the apple brandy certainly captures fall with its deep fruit sweetness. And the spice from the ginger syrup is the perfect pairing for the honey flavors in yellow chartreuse.

Smokey Surprise: Mezcal and Pomegranate

Image of Pomegranate for 5 Fall Cocktails to Capture the Flavors of Autumn

Mezcal and particularly, tequila, are generally thought of as summer or warm weather spirits. They come from Mexico, after all. And the most popular cocktail in the United States is the Margarita, certainly a drink that comes with visions of a summer getaway. But the smokey seduction of Mezcal and the toasted sweetness of agave in a barrel-aged reposado tequila is what fall tastes like in 2018.

Cocktail Recipe:

1 oz. Fidencio Mezcal

1 oz. Espolon Reposado Tequila

.5 oz. Lime Juice

Top glass with Pomegranate juice

Garnish with candied lime wheel

Method: Add ice to collins glass or old fashioned glass. Add lime juice, followed by mezcal and tequila. Top with pomegranate juice. Quickly stir to incorporate ingredients and then garnish with candied lime wheel.

What makes it a fall cocktail: The smoke of mezcal, the soft sweetness of reposado tequila, and the deep red fruit of pomegranate juice combine for a smokey and jammy drink that offers a new avenue to reach the nostalgic flavors of fall.

Squash Cocktail: Rye Whiskey and Butternut Squash

Yep. Butternut squash in a cocktail. There are a few ways to utilize squash in a cocktail. The most common way is to roast the squash, cut the cooked squash into small squares, and then infuse it in a neutral spirit like vodka.

But we don’t want to do that. For this cocktail we’ll make a puree that will mix into the cocktail to give it a heavy body and capture all the roasted flavor of butternut squash.

Squash Puree Instructions: 

  1. Place oven rack in center position and preheat oven to 400˚F. Cut butternut squash in half, lengthwise, and remove seeds with a spoon. Brush 1 tablespoon of maple syrup over flesh of squash. Set squash halves on a baking sheet, cut-side down, and bake squash until the skin is easily pieced with a knife or fork. About 45 minutes – 1 hour.
  2. Once cooled, remove squash skin. Cut squash into 2 inch segments and add it to a food processor or blender. Process until smooth.

Cocktail Recipe:

2 oz. Rittenhouse rye

1 spoonful of Butternut squash puree

.5 oz Lemon Juice

.5 oz Demerara simple syrup

2 dash Peychaud bitters

Garnish with sage leaf

Method: Add all liquid ingredients and puree to shaker. Add fresh ice. Shake vigorously for 30 – 40 seconds. Add sage leaf garnish.

What makes it a fall cocktail: The deep sweetness of the roasted butternut squash puree makes it the quintessential fall ingredient. The Demerara sugar used for the simple syrup has a toasty, caramel flavor that plays off of the maple syrup in the butternut squash, and the sage leaf tops off this savory cocktail.

Autumn in England: Gin, Sherry, and Mulled Simple Syrup

Image of Mulled Gin Cocktail for 5 Fall Cocktails that Capture the Flavors of Autumn

Gin is a polarizing spirit. But when paired with mulling spice and a sweet, nutty sherry, gin’s botanical bite is dulled, but still present.

Cocktail Recipe:

1.5 oz. Sipsmith Gin

.75 oz. Amontillado Sherry

.5 oz. Mulled Simple Syrup*

Muddle orange

Top with Tonic Water

Method: Muddle 2-3 orange slices in shaker tin. Add simple syrup and quickly stir to incorporate ingredients. Add gin and sherry. Shake briefly, 10-15 seconds. Strain into old fashioned glass. Add fresh ice and top with tonic water.

*Mulled simple syrup recipe

What makes this a fall cocktail: The combination of mulling spices – clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger – has the warming power that you look for in fall flavors. And the nutty richness of Amontillado-style sherry is the perfect balance to Sipsmith’s classic London Dry gin.

Kyle Thacker

Kyle Thacker

Kyle handles marketing and PR for Uncorkd. Aside from bartending and restaurant management, he's covered the Chicago dining scene as a freelance writer. He enjoys Miller High Life and getting yelled at by Chicagoans for supporting Boston sport's teams.
Kyle Thacker