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 in autumn.
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 few 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 a late-November Thursday, 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 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?
1. Pumpkin Sazerac
Young puts a fall twist on the Sazerac by using real pumpkin in a spiced syrup, which joins cognac (or rye whiskey) and Peychaud’s bitters in an absinthe-rinsed rocks glass with a final spritz of the expressed oils from a lemon twist.
2. Spiced Pumpkin Flip
This seasonal riff on the classic flip, created by Young, features all the flavors of fall: bourbon, amaretto, and pumpkin in two forms—ale and butter—plus agave nectar and a whole egg, topped off with grated nutmeg.
3. Pumpkin Buck
This is the Buck that Young has made every Thanksgiving for years. Using whiskey or applejack and a homemade pumpkin soda, and garnished with candied ginger and grated nutmeg, this two-ingredient cocktail is anything but simple.
4. Pumpkin Toddy
Created by bartender Jane Danger, this recipe, which originally appeared in Jim Meehan's book "The PDT Cocktail Book: The Complete Bartender's Guide from the Celebrated Speakeasy," is an autumnal take on a hot toddy, combining apple brandy, rye whiskey, lemon juice, maple syrup, pumpkin puree and Angostura bitters.
5. Pumpkin Nog
This large-format pumpkin-infused egg nog from bar pro Tony Abou-Ganim uses a bottle of rum plus pumpkin puree, eggs, sugar, milk, vanilla extract and cinnamon, all topped with whipped cream and grated nutmeg for a seasonal sweet treat.
6. Let's Pumpkin
This pumpkin punch was created by Shawn Chen, the beverage director at RedFarm in New York City. It mixes bourbon and ginger liqueur with apple, lemon and pineapple juices, pumpkin puree and a fall spice syrup. Bonus points if you serve it up in hollowed-out tiny pumpkins and top it all off with toasted meringue.
7. Pumpkin Spiced Latte
A slow cooker's the secret behind this boozy rendition of everyone's favorite fall drink. Coffee combines with your choice of spirit, plus milk, heavy cream, sugar, pumpkin puree, vanilla extract, and cinnamon and pumpkin pie spices for a warm and comforting cocktail.
8. Thanksgiving Margarita
Young's pumpkin-tinged Margarita twist adds allspice dram, amaretto and pumpkin puree to the classic tequila cocktail. We won’t suggest that it replace your pumpkin pie, but it makes a particularly appropriate accompaniment to it or any other sweet fall treat.
9. Smashing Pumpkin
Like Young's Pumpkin Buck, this cocktail calls for a homemade soda as well, this one lemon-pumpkin. It's used to top a mixture of aged rum and allspice liqueur that forms a richly spiced base for the bright soda.
10. Pumpkin Spice Old Fashioned
Two favorite autumn drinks get smashed into one in this cocktail. A spiced pumpkin syrup and orange bitters join bourbon in the glass for this take on an Old Fashioned. Add a splash of club soda, if you like, and garnish with a cinnamon stick for a final flourish.
11. Great Pumpkin
This seasonal flip created by Jim Meehan at New York City’s PDT combines the autumnal elements of apple brandy, rye whiskey, maple syrup, pumpkin ale and a whole egg into one craveable cocktail that’s garnished with grated nutmeg for an extra boost of pumpkin-spice flavor.