Summer is the season of fresh, lively cocktails: Collinses and flips and spritzes and 'garitas. But as the weather chills down, it's time to switch into a more subtle mode. Fall cocktails are all about deep, earthy, and woodsy flavors, those that match the smell outside and the sorts of rustic, homey dishes that taste so perfect on a cool evening. There are certainly cocktail recipes that work well in fall, but rather than just memorize a bunch of new drinks, my vote is to switch out components of cocktails you already know for more fall-friendly flavors.
1. Switch up your sweeteners: Many cocktails recipes contain a sweet component to round out the flavors and bring the drink together: simple syrup, sweet vermouth, liqueurs, etc. Two of my favorite ways to autumn up the sweetness: 1) switch out your simple for maple syrup. It's sweeter than 1:1, so you'll want to use less., but it provides a big flavor boost. Try mixing it with an equal part of boiling water to make it more shakeable. 2) I like to make an apple cider syrup: I reduce apple cider by about 50% with some additional sugar (about one half part) and a bit of cinnamon and cloves until it's thicker and more concentrated. It'll keep in the fridge for a few weeks.
2. Bring on the bitters: Aromatic bitters are bitter, sure, but they're bitter for a reason: the aromatic part. These concoctions are infused with spices, citrus peels, dried barks and roots, and...is this starting to sound familiar? Sounds like all the components of those fall smells we've come to love. Though they work season-round, well-known bottles like Angostura and Regan's orange bitters actually taste and smell most like fall. So, considering doubling the amount in your next cocktail, or experimenting with some new flavors of one of the new craft bitters that you can get everywhere now-a-days.
3. Muddle in fall herbs: I'm a big fan of fresh herbs in cocktails (and in desserts and savory dishes for that matter) and they're a super simple way to add some fall flavor to you recipe. Just muddle woodsy herbs like sage, thyme, rosemary, winter savory, and the like with your other ingredients, then add your spirits and shake or stir as normal. You can strain the leaves out, but I don't mind keeping them in the glass. One of my favorite uses: a fresh thyme Old Fashioned: muddle a sprig's worth of thyme leaves with raw sugar, bitter, and orange zest, and top with 2 oz. bourbon.
4. Step them up with homemade grenadine: Super sweet storebought stuff has got nothing on homemade grenadine. Pomegranates are a fall and early winter staple, and making a bottle is a great way to celebrate the season. Check out the ManMade recipe here!
5. Warm it up, Chris. Fall is the perfect time to experiment and learn more about warm cocktails: that is, those not shaken with ice, but heated and served in a mug. Toddies, punches, glöggs, mulled drinks, and tea and coffee drinks help you keep warm and, you know, drink stuff. Not every drink will work well warm, but you'll be surprised how many spirits actually take well to heat.
6. Switch out the citrus: Fresh citrus is a cocktail bar staple, and during October - December, there are all kinds of unique citrus that you can't find throughout the year. Change up your lemons and lime for winter citrus like blood oranges, clementines, tangerines, pomelos, and the like. These will bring different levels of sweetness and acidity, so you'll have to adapt the proportions, but it's worth experimenting.
7. Barrel-Age 'em: Barrel-aging cocktails is the process in which you infuse an entire mixed drink with the flavors of charred wood...or, if you're thinking fall, all the good parts of a campfire with none of the smoke. They take a bit of time to process, but if you start now, yours can be ready well before Thanksgiving, just in time for those cold, dark nights. Check out the ManMade guide DIY barrel-aged cocktails here.