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 recently. 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 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 (oh, snap!), 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?
Contributed by Naren Young
- 1.5 oz American whiskey or Applejack
- Pumpkin soda*
Garnish: Candied ginger on a skewer and grated nutmeg
PREPARATION: Add whiskey to a Collins glass and fill with ice. Top with pumpkin soda.
- 1 can Pumpkin puree
- 3 quarts Water
- Zest of 6 lemons
- 3 oz Maple syrup
- .5 cups Finely chopped ginger
- 1 Cinnamon stick
- 4 Cloves
- 1 Vanilla bean, split
- 3 Star anise
- 4 Cardamom pods
PREPARATION: Add all ingredients to a small saucepan and bring to a low boil for 20 minutes. Allow to cool and strain out the solids. Add the liquid to a Soda Stream and charge with Co2. Keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Contributed by Naren Young
- 2 oz Cognac or rye whiskey
- .5 oz Pumpkin syrup*
- 3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
- .25 oz Absinthe
Garnish: Oil from a lemon twist
PREPARATION: Place a rocks glass in the freezer for 15 minutes. Add the cognac (or rye whiskey), pumpkin syrup and bitters to a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir for 30 seconds. Remove the rocks glass from freezer and add the absinthe. Swirl it around the inside and then discard excess. Strain the stirred mixture into glass. Break a lemon twist over the surface to express the oils onto the drink. Discard lemon twist and enjoy.
Jake’s Pumpkin Syrup*
- 1 pint Hot water
- 1.75 pint White sugar
- .25 pint Brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon Cinnamon
- 1⁄2 teaspoon Nutmeg
- 1⁄2 teaspoon Allspice
- 20 Sugar cube-sized lumps of fresh cooked pumpkin
PREPARATION: Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. Pour the mixture through a sieve and refrigerate.
Contributed by Naren Young
- 1 tablespoon Ground ginger
- 1 tablespoon Sea salt
- 1.5 oz Reposado tequila
- .25 oz Allspice Dram liqueur
- .25 oz Amaretto
- .75 oz Lime juice
- .5 oz Agave nectar
- 1 oz Pumpkin puree
Garnish: Roasted pumpkin slice, half rim of ginger salt
PREPARATION: Mix together the ground ginger and the sea salt. Coat half the rim of the rocks glass in lime juice and dip in the mixture (for a finer texture, pound the ginger and sea salt in a mortar and pestle). Add remaining ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a the rimmed rocks glass filled with fresh ice.
Naren Young is a 20-year veteran food and drinks journalist and an authority on all things cocktailian. He’s created the cocktail programs at many of New York’s most critically-acclaimed bars and is now the cocktail tour de force behind Manhattan’s Bacchanal. Find out more about Naren at forkandshaker.com or follow his rants on Twitter.
(Illustrations: Ariel Dunitz-Johnson)