Growing up in Australia, pumpkin meant overcooked mush you ate, somewhat regrettably, around the Christmas table. Its flesh was abused beyond repair; its texture more befitting a teething toddler. Fast forward to 2006 when I moved to America and realized pumpkin is a national obsession, especially around November.
There are pumpkin-pie eating contests, pumpkin-throwing competitions, a fight for the sexiest pumpkin, and the town of Morton, Illinois, declares itself the pumpkin capital of the world. Starbucks has its famed spiced pumpkin latte, which is strangely addictive (I tried one for the first time for the purposes of this article). That same latte was humorously ridiculed by comedian John Oliver. Only in the last couple of years, though, have I seen turning up in seasonal cocktails.
The first time I tried a pumpkin cocktail was Jim Meehan’s Great Pumpkin, named after the famous Charlie Brown bit. Essentially a riff on a classic Flip, he combined rye, applejack, maple syrup, pumpkin ale and a whole egg. My own Spiced Pumpkin Flip was certainly inspired by his earlier rendition. In his "PDT Cocktail Book," Meehan also lists a delightful sounding Pumpkin Toddy (attributed to one of his former bartenders, Jane Danger) and right now, that sounds about as perfect as fall drinking gets.
Pumpkins pair with quite a variety of flavors, but being a typical fall ingredient, able partners can be found in hard spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, star anise, clove and cardamom. Fresh ginger also works wonders. For the base spirit, any whiskey is great (especially American expressions), aged tequilas and brandies and dark rums. Ideal modifiers include the likes of amaretto, Frangelico and Licor 43.
I’ve made a Pumpkin Buck every Thanksgiving for the past few years and it’s always a hit. (A ‘Buck’ is a classic highball typically consisting of rum or whiskey and served with ginger and soda). This Buck is a fun and festive option to give the kids or the designated driver. For those that want a little buzz on November 27, throw in a good slug of your preferred hooch. I feel it works best with bourbon, though any brown spirit would feel comfortable here.
The Ramos Gin Fizz, that ambrosial New Orleans classic, is especially delicious with a spoonful of pumpkin puree. You can buy canned purees at any grocery store; many mixologists turn to brands such as Boiron, which has dozens of excellent flavors, including pumpkin. Those with more culinary sensibilities are also roasting their own pumpkin (sometimes with various spices and sweeteners) and then pulsing it in a food processor.
Elsewhere in the United States, Allan Katz from Caña in Los Angeles is blending in a little pumpkin in his autumn riff on a Piña Colada, while Al Sotack, previously of Philadelphia’s Franklin Mortgage & Investment Company regales his twist on an Old Fashioned with pumpkin syrup and a base mix of cognac and applejack.
Making pumpkin syrup is very easy and can add real depth and complexity to a wide variety of classic drinks. London legend Jake Burger uses it in a Gimlet with his own Portobello Road gin; the syrup can also be used in a Whiskey Sour in lieu of simple syrup. And on Thanksgiving day, why not add a little pumpkin to your eggnog?