The cooler, crisper weather of fall evokes certain warm, comforting flavors, and we’re not just talking pumpkin spice (although, yes, that too). Maple, bacon, toasted nuts, caramel, apples, figs—there are all sorts of wonderful ingredients that scream fall, and we love every one of them. So much so that we’ll work them into any food or drink we can. Cocktails are certainly no exception.
There are lots of different ways of bringing all your favorite sweet and savory fall flavors into drinks, so we’ll go by ingredient.
Perhaps the most famous harbinger of fall, pumpkin is already consumed in countless desserts, so you can get your fix whether you’re team pie or team cake (or team ice cream, or team cheesecake). It crops up in savory dishes like soups as well, so why not put it in drinks and complete the meal? The easiest way to do so is to get a can of pumpkin puree (not canned pumpkin pie filling, although if you’re also after spices and sugar, that’ll work—in which case, you can also try pumpkin butter). You can stir in a spoonful of pumpkin puree to add subtle earthy-sweetness and a touch of body to any drink where it makes sense (say, a flip)—although even where it doesn’t necessarily sound right, it might still work, as the pumpkin mojito attests! Or, if you want to go the fresh route, you can roast your own pumpkin and puree it in a blender to stand in for the canned or jarred stuff.
If you don’t want to add any extra texture to your drink, there’s also pumpkin syrup. You can buy pumpkin spice syrup, but if you want pure pumpkin flavor, you’ll probably have to make your own. Luckily, it’s easy! The flavor of this syrup is more delicate than straight puree, so take care not to drown out the pumpkin notes with highly spiced spirits.
Or, you can buy pumpkin bitters, made with five kinds of organic Northern California pumpkins. Allegedly, it adds a delicious depth to plenty of drinks besides cocktails too.
And don’t forget pumpkin seeds! Roasted with sweet or savory spices, they make a lovely and appropriate snack to serve alongside fall cocktails, but you can also try toasted pumpkin seed oil in your drinks, like this bourbon-based concoction.
Most fall food and drinks marketed as pumpkin-flavored, whether or not they also have “spice” in the name, are really referring to the beloved pumpkin pie seasoning blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, and cloves first pushed by McCormick in the 1950s. Some of these products also include actual pumpkin, but that’s not a given. If you want to add that homey PSL fragrance to your own drinks, as mentioned above, you can buy pumpkin spice syrup to add a little fall flavor to your cocktails (and hot chocolate, and coffee, and whatever else you like). Or you can go the homemade syrup route; that’s always satisfying, and it lets you control the ratio of spices and sugar according to your preferences. Our Homemade Pumpkin Spice Liqueur recipe goes a step beyond by adding aged rum to the strained syrup, which you can then mix with any number of things (or sip straight).
If you don’t want to impart so much sugar, you can use the spices themselves, in any combo that appeals to you—but don’t just shake a canister of pumpkin pie spice over your drink! Well, you can do that and it’ll still taste good (and you can definitely mix pumpkin pie spice with sugar for a seasonal rim), but the best way to add any spices to your drinks is to use them whole and fresh. Muddling or grating them is the best technique, and be sure to strain your concoction into your glass so you don’t end up with gritty bits.
Feel free to build on or move beyond the classic pumpkin pie spice mix, too. Other warm spices like cardamom, anise, and black peppercorns work fabulously in fall cocktails.
If you’re more of a beer drinker, you’ve got a plethora of pumpkin brews to choose from. We’re including them here because most of them include pumpkin pie spices, but whether or not your favorites do, you can use them in beer cocktails if you get bored of sipping them alone. Turns out, summer isn’t the only season for shandies. Try a fall version with pumpkin beer and ginger beer, and a spiced sugar rim to boot. Or pour a glass half full with pumpkin ale and layer pumpkin (or regular) stout on top for an autumnal black and tan. Have a snakebite made with pumpkin brew. You can try infusing beers too, using a French press.
This one’s easy! Just add some right from the bottle in place of simple syrup—but do be sure you’re using actual, pure maple syrup and not artificially flavored pancake topping. If you really like Mrs. Butterworth, that might work out, but we won’t vouch for it. Light maple syrup, harvested earlier in the season, used to be called Grade A, while Grade B denoted a darker syrup, harvested later on. Now the naming system has changed, but basically, if you want a deeper, richer flavor, pick a darker amber syrup, and choose a lighter one for a more gentle maple sweetness. There are, of course, plenty of sophisticated cocktail recipes featuring straight maple syrup to get you started.
And maple liqueur exists as well. It can be put to great use in lots of cocktails, like our Log Cabin cocktail recipe.
Caramel is wonderful in all its many forms: classically sweet, super dark, salted, smoky, spiced, with bourbon already in it. All of these permutations have a place in your fall drinks too. It all depends on the flavor profile you’re going for. Smoky caramel would be great in an Old Fashioned, salted in a chocolate martini. You can stir or shake room-temperature caramel, whether homemade or store-bought, into room-temperature spirits until they’re well incorporated, and then add ice. If you add ice before mixing or if you use pre-chilled liquor, the caramel might seize up, and no one wants that. The thinner the sauce the better, too. Caramel syrup is also an option. Of course, there’s no need for concern if you’re stirring caramel into warm drinks like Irish coffee or spiked hot chocolate.
Another way to add caramel notes to cocktails is to use flavored booze. You can make your own caramel-infused vodka, but if you’re short on time, your local liquor store should have plenty of options, perhaps even caramel flavored moonshine (but if not, you can make that at home too). Tuaca liqueur doesn’t contain caramel, but tastes like it could, and is nicely spiced. And there’s always butterscotch schnapps and caramel Irish cream.
Apples (and Pears, Figs, Persimmons, and Cranberries)
Fall’s second most famous fruit (pumpkin is #1, of course), apples make great cocktails, whether you go for a caramel apple flavor, or a straight-up crisp fruit taste. Apple brandy, apple (and apple pie) vodka, apple cider (hard or otherwise), apple liqueurs (which you can make at home), and apple bitters all lend themselves to lots of autumnal drinks. Surprise, surprise, apple syrup is also a good choice, sweet or tart. Or you can try mixing in fresh apples; for a deeper caramelized flavor, roast apple chunks before pureeing like you would pumpkin, or blend fresh, raw apples and make a bright martini. Or mix up a batch of apple sangria. Too chilly for that? There’s always mulled apple cider you can doctor with a little whiskey, Scotch, or bourbon. Dried apple chips (dusted with cinnamon and sugar if you like) make a great garnish on most apple drinks. Pears are also abundant in the fall, and they can be used in pretty much all the same ways as apples when it comes to cocktails.
Figs are softer fruit, so they can be muddled with other cocktail ingredients to great effect, or used to infuse bourbon or other liquor. (Or you can buy ready-made fig vodka, etc.) If you’re muddling or infusing at home, for a deeper dimension, roast the figs first, with some warm spices if you wish. Or you could stir some fig preserves into your drink, for a jammy, super-easy cocktail.
Though they don’t get enough exposure, persimmons are another gorgeous fall fruit. Hachiya persimmons, when ripe, are incredibly soft and luscious, so they’re a natural for simply muddling with classic cocktail ingredients, while Fuyu persimmons, which remain a little firmer, are perfect for pureeing, as in a fall margarita.
And cranberries don’t have to be relegated to the Thanksgiving table, although if you make a batch of cranberry sauce for the occasion, especially if it’s flavored with ginger and orange, it’s divine stirred into some hard cider with a splash of vodka (just replace the cranberry juice with homemade cranberry sauce in this recipe), or in our Cranberry Culprit cocktail recipe. More traditionally, cranberry cocktails mean cosmopolitans, which can be sickly sweet if you don’t get the ratios right (and even then, can cause flashbacks in those of a certain age). In addition to using cranberry juice and sauce, you can muddle fresh or frozen cranberries for a bitter kick, make a cranberry simple syrup, or craft a tangy cranberry shrub for tart cocktails.
Toasted nuts, spiced or not, seem so cozy come fall. They make a great cocktail snack, of course. But you have several ways of adding nutty notes to your drinks too. You can buy various nut-flavored liqueurs and bitters, sure, or straight-up nut oils (more on that in the next section—yes, the bacon section; it’ll make sense once you get there).
Another great way to bring nutty flavors into drinks is to use orgeat (say “or-zha”), which is a rich, fragrant syrup traditionally made with almonds, but which you can adapt at home using whatever nut you fancy (hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, almonds, peanuts, pistachios…you get the idea). Orgeat does traditionally contain a little rose or orange flower water, but you can always play around with the levels to get the specific taste you’re after. As with all those other syrups we’ve been mentioning, making orgeat at home is not difficult at all, and is generally way cheaper than buying ready-made, although the price will depend on what kind of nut you choose to use. You just have to plan ahead a bit, and it’s so worth it.
Or simply try swizzling some slightly bitter chestnut honey into your libations. Even straight-up nut butters can work in warm drinks, particularly hot chocolate, to which you can also add a shot of something stronger if you choose.
Die-hard carnivores can have their bacon and drink it too! Wait, that sounds gross. But bacon-infused spirits can be quite delicious, when done correctly. Fat washing is the technique in question, and it involves infusing spirits with ingredients whose fat-soluble compounds impart their flavor to the booze. It’s widely held that bacon-infused bourbon was the original fat washed creation, but you can capture lots of other flavors using the same method. That’s where the nut oils come in; try the coconut-oil washed vodka here, but sub in the nut oil of your choice. You could make a delicious discovery!
Smoke evokes homey hearths as well as burning leaf piles, and is a less-obvious but perfect fall flavor addition to drinks. Bacon is one way to do it, but if you don’t eat meat or just think that sounds weird, never fear. Many peaty Scotches have a smoky taste to start with, as do mezcals, but you can amp that up, or add a smokiness to any other liquor in several different ways. You can try cold smoking whiskey (but taste it often so you don’t take it too far), a direct smoke infusion via a smoking gun, or adding smoked salt. Smoky tea leaves bring a lovely accent, either muddled with other ingredients or added in the form of brewed tea or a lapsang souchong simple syrup. Bolder souls can consider infusing booze with actual hardwood charcoal (but do not, under any circumstances, use commercial charcoal briquettes or anything that’s been chemically treated). A more subtle way to work in a smoky element is to char some fragrant, hardy herbs like rosemary or thyme and use them as a garnish; the aroma will add another fun dimension to the drink.
Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme
Speaking of herbs, fresh specimens are also a fantastic addition to cocktails in any season. We wrote a whole guide about it this spring, but fall is prime time for warm, intense herbs like sage, rosemary, and thyme. Whatever you choose, you can simply muddle or gently rub the leaves to release their flavor and aroma, or use them to make infused simple syrups. Naturally, fresh, untouched herbs make a great garnish too.
This is a fun one. Halloween is one of the best parts of fall, and candy corn infused vodka makes scarily festive martinis. You can try the same thing with similar treats, like taffy, gummi worms, Sour Patch Kids, Skittles, Smarties, Jolly Ranchers, or Mello Creme pumpkins. Or, if you’re the kind of person who used to swap all their non-chocolate candies for a few precious extra Reese’s peanut butter cups, you can use them to flavor vodka too! Try the process with whatever other chocolates you like, or just go out and buy ready-made chocolate and/or candy flavored booze to make drinkable versions of your favorite fun size bars (Snickers, for instance). No tricks to that; only treats.
If you’re feeling inspired to fall into some autumn-inflected cocktails but aren’t quite sure where to start tinkering, try one of these recipes:
For slightly sweeter drinks, you can try spiced pumpkin punch or a pumpkintini, but if you like a bit more kick, try a pumpkin spice sour or this take on the classic Old Fashioned. You make a syrup with pumpkin puree, brown sugar, and spices (which lasts up to a month!), then mix it with a healthy dose of bourbon and salted cacao bitters. Get the recipe.
Sure, apples are great with whiskey and bourbon (and homemade apple pie vodka is fabulous), but try pairing the fruit with more unexpected spirits. For instance, apple and gin, or here, apple and tequila. Mezcal brings a lovely smokiness to these apple cider cocktails, with fizz from ginger ale and extra warmth from a ginger and chili powder rim. These can also be made in batches for your next fall cocktail party, which is convenient. Get the recipe.
Pecan pie is a holiday classic, but you can only eat so much. This liquid version is deceptively simple, with only three ingredients, the key one being pecan praline liqueur. But you could also play around with homemade pecan orgeat and caramel syrups or caramel-infused booze to make your own pecan pie cocktail, and maybe bring in some chocolate elements and/or spices to suit your tastes too. Get the recipe.
Fresh figs are muddled with elderflower liqueur and mixed with vodka, lemon, and agave for a great twist on the usual fruity drink. To make it a little more autumnal, use a spicy, nutty, or chocolatey liqueur (or even fig liqueur to double-down on that flavor) instead of elderflower, replace the vodka with whiskey or bourbon, swap out agave for maple syrup, and garnish with a warmer herb instead of mint, or leave it off completely. Get our Flying Fig recipe.
Persimmons are a criminally underrated fall fruit. (Pears are more familiar, but for another unexpected fall twist on a classic cocktail, try them in this spiced pear collins.) Here, super soft and juicy Fuyu persimmons are muddled with citrus slices and maple syrup for a delicious—and appropriately orange hued—drink. Get the recipe.
Although brown spirits might seem more suited to fall, this gin drink is perfect for cooler weather. Sage-infused honey and Earl Grey tea make for a sophisticated tipple. To make the infused honey, simply bruise or chop some sage leaves and steep them in the sweet stuff for a while, or follow this recipe if you need specifics. If you don’t want to wait, try muddling sage leaves with the honey before shaking everything together. Get our Madame’s Choice recipe.
This is ultra autumnal, with apple cider and pumpkin beer in the mix. There’s bourbon too, and cinnamon and cranberries for garnish. Get the recipe.
Here’s a two-fer: this smoky take on the Manhattan uses both bacon-infused bourbon and bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup (but you can use regular maple syrup instead). And since you’re already breaking with tradition, feel free to garnish with a strip of candied bacon instead of the classic maraschino and citrus twist. Get the recipe.
This is a super-quick but super-tasty cocktail that uses Trader Joe’s pumpkin butter, which contains not only pumpkin puree, but all the requisite fall spices. The fresh thyme garnish lends a complementary spicy aroma. You can make the drink vegan without losing the foam by substituting aquafaba for the egg (although then you’ll have to make or find another pumpkin butter, since TJ’s version does contain honey). Get the recipe.
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