How to Create Better Fall Flavors for Your Cocktail Menu

By Brian Murphy, Foodable Contributor

Brian Murphy for Foodable WebTV Network

Brian Murphy for Foodable WebTV Network

Season changes bring different things to different regions, and whether it’s social cues or weather, guest behavior inevitably changes. Your beverage program should acknowledge that and offer flavors that guests are looking for.

Put Yourself in Your Guests’ Boots

Consider the customer experience during fall months: it’s colder out, and hot, heartier fare is the perfect antidote for a crisp evening. Days are a lot shorter, so schedules shift a bit. Dinner rush may come a bit earlier now that the sun is dropping hours earlier than it was months ago, and your guests are craving something different. Gather your bar staff, do some tastings, and then begin to mix and match. Purists may reel at the notion of combining quality products, so build your beverage combos gradually and with respect so all of the flavors can shine.

Pumpkin Pie Has a Season?

No matter your stance on this polarizing flavor phenomenon, there is a significant portion of the public that demands it. You can accommodate without resorting to cloyingly sweet, artificial flavors by simply understanding the blend: cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and ginger. 

Give a subtle nod to quench your guests’ thirst for fall by incorporating some fresh ginger or ginger liqueur in classic cocktails. Grate some fresh, aromatic nutmeg on top of a drink to garnish and give a bold, fall aroma as the first sip is taken. Remember that a little goes a long way with the addition of pungent spices, especially cinnamon and allspice, the culprits for those who despise pumpkin spice. 

You don’t have to limit yourself to these spices, so don’t underestimate the power of crushing some fresh cardamom pods or peppercorns in the bottom of the mixing glass before you shake up your guests’ fall cocktails. Just be sure to use a fine strainer before handing over that libation. These spices can go many directions, so talk with your reps about adding some apple lambic and some honey and ginger liqueurs to your next order. Take it easy on the spices and experiment with balancing drinks out with a vanilla-forward bourbon or another spirit. 

Brian Murphy for Foodable WebTV Network

Brian Murphy for Foodable WebTV Network

More Intensity

Guests are open to more flavors, higher proofs, and higher ABVs as they find solace in your fall beverage menu. The lager that was perfect when the thermometer was hitting the century mark isn’t as attractive as a higher-octane brew. The depth of flavors involved with a mightier brew range from sweet, syrupy malt and barley flavors to ultra-hopped bitterness. 

Sample some barley wine and a double or triple IPA and then use these flavors to build innovative drinks for your chilly guests. Make some tasting notes on your favorite brews and then experiment. The complexities of a hoppy IPA are intensified if it is reduced. Complex citrus notes and bitterness can now be an interesting ingredient and a novel substitute for bitters, satisfying guests’ desire for deep flavors and challenging them at the same time. 

Bitterness is often a misunderstood and underutilized flavor, so do some research and then spread the word. The standby IPA you are getting at a decent cost should be mixed in with some fresh grapefruit juice and gin. The citrus notes in the hops will shine, the bitterness will mellow the sweetness of the grapefruit, and that piney juniper flavor will help ease your guests into the holiday season. 

Get those oddball bottles off the top shelf and sneak them into existing cocktails or make up new fall specials. Feeling bold? Mixing in some bitters with beer can create a whole new flavor profile. A Farmhouse Saison can become a rich, even more complex beer-cocktail with a splash of Cynar added. Taste buds can savor the spices, the hint of sour, some fruit, but with a lingering bitterness that takes the union of ale and aperitif to a new place.  

Brian Murphy for Foodable WebTV Network

Brian Murphy for Foodable WebTV Network

Eau de Smoke

The comforting smell of a wood burning fireplace in the fall is easy to add to an existing beverage program with the use of a quality mezcal. Mezcal offers a smokiness all its own, and can do so without tasting “too much like tequila.” This allows for a splash or float on many cocktails, adding a fall depth without completely altering the integrity of the original drink. Your house margarita just reached a new depth with the splash of quality, young mezcal. 

Want deeper flavor? Find a gold mezcal that has been aged, but know most of these are better sipped on their own. Don’t be afraid to try a splash in non-tequila cocktails as well. Start small, and then build until the appropriate level of smokiness has been achieved. Alternatively, make mezcal the star it deserves to be and experiment by adding apple, citrus, or ginger flavors to the smoky maguey nectar.  

Brian Murphy for Foodable WebTV Network

Brian Murphy for Foodable WebTV Network

The Flavor of the Barrel

Whiskey, specifically Rye, offers flavors, aromas, and the higher proof that pairs well with inclement weather. There are many bottles of rye out there, and chances are you already stock a few. Taste them. Really taste them and find those fall flavors: leather, tobacco, vanilla, oak, smoke. 

Now, incorporate them into cocktails or beer that could benefit from an autumnal makeover. Is there a chocolatey porter in your beverage program? Think “Boilermaker” and don’t be afraid to slip some Rye into or alongside a tasty, hearty brew. Make a refreshing, crowd-pleasing mule, but make it with Rye. Deeper, darker, but still incredibly tasty. Your guests already love the copper mugs (keep your eyes on those things!), so why not keep the interest by offering a robust fall version?