Embrace Seasonality to Make Your Cocktail Menu Shine

Image: Julia_Sudnitskaya / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Bars and restaurants are taking the turn to seasonal cocktails – particularly Halloween themed tipples – seriously this year.

For many years, the appearance of a couple of drinks including cider, baking spices, applejack or Calvados, along with one form of pumpkin or another, sufficed as a nod to the encroaching fall. But this year, there’s a range of new drink introductions worth examining as seasonality emerges every year as an important beverage component.

Mezcal takes center stage at Espita Mezcaleria, the southern Mexican-inspired restaurant in DC. Espita has put 8 new drinks on their fall menu, all created by beverage director and partner Megan Barnes. Each of these cocktails highlights autumnal flavors such as apple, allspice, and mulled wine. “The inspiration behind our fall cocktail menu was modern day Mexico, and telenovelas,” says Barnes. “Mexico is fairly diverse, with immigrants coming from Asia and Europe, so we wanted to incorporate a range of ingredients that reflected that. The names of our cocktails come from popular telenovelas, films and songs.”

Espita Mezcaleria Walnut & Wine fall cocktail - Fall and autumn drinks
Image: Walnut & Wine at Espita Mezcaleria

The drinks include Apple Coriander, made with espadín mezcal, Mexican rum, Granny Smith apples, ginger and coriander; Walnut & Wine, made with Paranubes Oaxacan rum, espadín mezcal, red wine and Nux Alpina walnut liqueur; Mariposa Traicionera, made with mezcal, Cardamaro Amaro, damson plum, vanilla and Fernet Francisco; and Al Diablo con Los Guapos, espadín mezcal, Copper & Kings American Apple Brandy and spiced grenadine.

The bartenders at restaurants operated by Kimpton Hotels in in Chicago, Seattle, Minneapolis and Portland are serving a variety of autumnal libations with baking spices key. There’s the Skullywag from Jess Keene at Sable Kitchen & Bar in Chicago, made from equal parts Buffalo Trace Bourbon and white Rhum Clément with crème de cacao, cinnamon syrup, lime juice and bitters, served in a skull glass. Tales from the Thai-Light Zone from bartender Karen Johnson at Pennyroyal in Seattle is made with chilled Thai tea, Belvedere vodka, spiced vanilla syrup and half and half, garnished with a flamed star anise and served in a Collins glass.

Also from Kimpton, and going with a ghoulish hue in a twist on the classic Last Word, food and beverage director of the SIX15 Room, Tim Rivers, mixes Plymouth Gin, Green Chartreuse, lime juice and housemade cucumber-limeade syrup for the Green Goblin. And using the more traditional fall ingredients, Bryan Gall at the Bacchus Bar in Portland came up with Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice: Calvados, cider, rosemary simple syrup, lemon juice and basil, shaken and strained, served up.

In NYC, Porchlight announced its fall cocktails, including drinks employing smoky Scotch, a beer-infused Manhattan, and a sustainable libation made with reclaimed bar byproducts. Reimagined takes on the Rum Rickey, Manhattan, Absinthe Frappé, Sling and Godfather include the Ricky Bobby Rickey (rum, Porchlight’s house rum blend, reclaimed citrus vinegar, cinnamon syrup, soda); the Porterhouse Manhattan (brandy, Scotch, sweet vermouth, housemade porter beer syrup, Cherry Heering); and Gaelic Godfather (Irish whiskey, Scotch, aquavit, Porchlight’s maraschino liqueur blend).

Also in NYC, The Skylark went more traditional by tweaking existing drinks to add a seasonal zest, as in the Pumpkin Pie Margarita (tequila, lime and orange juices, Faretti Biscotti, pumpkin butter and pumpkin pie spice); and Bobbing for Apples (an Applejack Sazerac made with Laird’s Applejack, simple syrup, and Peychaud’s Bitters) served in an absinthe-coated glass.

The Hamilton Washington, DC Pumpkin Pisco Punch fall cocktail - Fall and autumn drinks
Image: Pumpkin Pisco Punch at The Hamilton DC

Pumpkin, for better or worse, is still proving hard to resist. In Washington, DC, The Hamilton is offering the Pumpkin Pisco Punch, made with Pisco Portón Acholado, pumpkin puree, simple syrup, lemon juice, vanilla bean, nutmeg, and ginger juice. With apples in mind, they menued District Cider, made with Leopold Bros. Apple Whiskey, Leopold Bros. Three Pins Alpine Herbal Liqueur, and cider, rimmed with spiced turbinado sugar.

The Hay-Adams Off The Record hotel bar Johnny Appleseed fall cocktail - Fall and autumn drinks
Image: Johnny Appleseed at The Hay-Adams

Apples and pears are rampant in DC this fall, it seems. The Hay-Adams hotel bar, Off The Record, added the Johnny Appleseed, made with house-spiced dark rum, fresh apple cider, and sage-charred lemon syrup, garnished with fresh sage and lemon. And at Ambar Clarendon, mixologist Danilo Simic has whipped up five new cocktails, including an Apple Collins made with gin, cucumber juice and purée, apple rhubarb juice, lime, simple syrup, apple bitters, and a splash of soda; and the Skoplje, made with mezcal, zlatna pear, pear purée, cinnamon syrup, and lemon juice.