When it comes to creating fall cocktails, as strange as it sounds, I often start by first picturing the warm colors of the season. The flaming reds, burnt oranges and deep yellows of New England’s changing leaves suggest apples, pears, pumpkins, cranberries and spices to me. Those ingredients come together to make what I like to call “cozy cocktails” that will see you through to Thanksgiving, at the very least.
As the weather gets colder, I like to add layers (just as you would with clothing) and complexity to my drinks. The easiest way to do this is to start with a mature spirit, such as spiced rum or whiskey, that already has plenty of rich flavor. (Gin can work too, but you have to play up its spicy side.) You can also take an unaged spirit and pair it with a taste of autumn, like cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, vanilla or ginger. And if you have some time, you can even infuse the liquor with these spices, or with fresh seasonal fruit.
But just because there’s a nip in the air doesn’t mean you can’t use citrus fruits or fresh juices in your creations. I find that flavorful Meyer lemon, blood orange and tangerine work really well at this time of year. Pomegranate juice is another fall favorite, and the fruit’s seeds are a great garnish that can make a clear or white drink immediately festive.
If it’s a specific fall flavor you’re craving, whether fig, pear or pumpkin, you're sure to find what you're looking for. A few of those favorites appear below, along with several more that epitomize the season’s best elements.
1. Apples & Pears
This cocktail, created by Voisey, combines apple-flavored vodka, lime and pear juices, and a vanilla-nutmeg syrup with hard cider and Angostura bitters to produce a profoundly autumnal drink.
2. Applejack Rabbit
This cocktail, combining Laird’s bonded apple brandy, lemon and orange juices, and maple syrup. first appeared in Judge Jr.’s 1927 cocktail book, “Here’s How.” This version received a contemporary facelift from renowned bartender Jim Meehan.
3. Forbidden Sour
Pomegranate liqueur joins the classic trio of bourbon, lemon juice and simple syrup in this Whiskey Sour variation from bartending vet Eben Freeman.
4. Goldwyn Follies
This recipe from bartender and distiller Allen Katz mixes gin, apple and cranberry juices, and black tea with a spiced cinnamon syrup for an elegantly autumnal cocktail, garnished with equally elegant apple slices.
5. Cynar Flip
Canadian whisky and the artichoke-based amaro Cynar get double billing in this flip, joined by Cointreau, a whole egg and a clove-infused syrup, combining the season's best rich textures and warm spice flavors.
6. Spiced Apple Fizz
This drink from award-winning bartender Naren Young pairs the fall flavors of pear brandy and hard apple cider for a seasonal stone-fruit fest in a glass. Those ingredients are joined by vodka, lemon juice, and honey syrup to brighten the drink like a crisp fall day.
Young’s ode to the season is a stirred drink that combines pear brandy, applejack, sherry, maple syrup and apple bitters. The cocktail is versatile, and he suggests it could be warmed and served as a toddy, in case you need a bit of extra warmth as the weather cools.
8. Fall from the Tree
You can choose your own base spirit in this cocktail from Jim Kearns of New York’s the Happiest Hour. Whether you go with applejack, bourbon or scotch, it'll be joined in the glass by apple and lemon juices, cinnamon syrup and aromatic bitters, evoking the feeling of apple orchards and crisp fallen leaves.
9. Pumpkin Buck
Young says he has made this drink every Thanksgiving for years. Combining whiskey or applejack and a homemade pumpkin soda, and garnished with candied ginger and grated nutmeg, the flavors of this two-ingredient cocktail is anything but simple.
10. Pumpkin Sazerac
Young’s fall spin on the Sazerac entails using real pumpkin in a spiced syrup, which joins cognac (or rye whiskey) and Peychaud’s bitters in an absinthe-rinsed rocks glass.
11. 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 autumn-flavored take on the classic winter warmer, combining apple brandy, rye whiskey, lemon juice, maple syrup, pumpkin puree and Angostura bitters.
12. Great Pumpkin
This cocktail, created by Jim Meehan at New York City’s PDT combines apple brandy, rye whiskey, maple syrup, pumpkin ale and a whole egg into a seasonal-flavored flip that’s garnished with grated nutmeg for an extra boost of pumpkin-spice flavor.
13. Maple Old Fashioned
As the weather cools down, spirit-forward drinks like the Old Fashioned gain appeal. This riff on the classic from distiller and drinks pro Allen Katz is even cozier: He swaps in dark rum for the typical bourbon and adds maple syrup for additional fall flavor.
14. Tender Knob
Named for the area between San Francisco’s Tenderloin and Nob Hill neighborhoods, as well as the Knob Creek bourbon that forms its base, this drink from bar legend H. Joseph Ehrmann includes a muddled apple, hard apple cider, agave nectar, and cinnamon. Although bartenders will often double-strain drinks, Ehrmann omits the second strain to retain some apple pieces.
15. Autumn Rickey
This Bourbon Rickey riff might be the easiest way to transition into the season. Just add a half-ounce of Grade B maple syrup to the simple combination of bourbon, lime juice, and club soda for a truly autumnal spin on the classic.
16. Spiced Pumpkin Flip
If you’ve already changed your coffee order to pumpkin spice, try this festive Flip from Young. He shakes pumpkin ale, bourbon, amaretto, agave nectar, and pumpkin butter with a whole egg to create a drink inspired by Jim Meehan’s Great Pumpkin.
As its name implies, this drink is perfect for any fall celebration: New York City bartender Jeremy Oertel combines vodka, dry red wine, pear liqueur, lemon juice, maple syrup, and seltzer, then tops the concoction with freshly grated nutmeg and pear slices to produce a fruity and refreshing spiced drink.
18. Lights Out Punch
This batched cocktail might just become a new holiday favorite. Bar pro Joaquín Simó combines reposado tequila, cinnamon-orange black tea, sweet vermouth, apple juice or cider, lemon juice, demerara syrup, two types of bitters, apples, cinnamon, and club soda. Don’t let the long ingredient list intimidate you: The drink is easy to assemble and can be prepared before a party.
19. Falling Leaves
Created by Audrey Sanders of the late Pegu Club, this drink sees pear brandy stirred together with honey syrup, Peychaud’s bitters and a touch of white wine such an Alsatian riesling or pinot gris.
20. Cider Delighter
Whether served hot or cold, apple cider is an emblem of the season for many. Meaghan Dorman of Raines Law Room and Dear Irving puts an inventive twist on the classic by combining vodka, allspice liqueur, lemon juice, apple cider, and baked apple bitters.