Using Fall Flavors to Welcome Four Classic Cocktails to Your Restaurant (NO PUMPKIN!)

Kids are back in school. Leaves are losing their green. There’s more flannel than Eddie Vedder’s closet. The undisputed best season of the year is finally upon us.

Why is autumn so awesome? The flavors.

Apples, pears, maple, caramel, cinnamon, nutmeg, cranberries, ginger, pecans, squash, chai. I could probably hit my minimum word count just listing amazing fall foods without even getting to the drastically overplayed pumpkin.

If you’re looking for pumpkin recipes, keep walking. Ten years ago, I pulled a 60-pound pumpkin out of a smoker; it immediately exploded all over me and I’ve sworn them off ever since. Besides, EVERYBODY is doing pumpkin to death these days. When Pumpkin Spice Spam is hitting supermarket shelves, you can be sure that the trend is about to die.

With so much attention paid to the dinner menu at the change of the seasons, it’s easy to overlook your cocktail list. However, the deep flavors that come out of your kitchen can easily translate to your drinks, as well. Updating classic cocktails is a simple trick that intrigues experienced drinkers and offers newbies an avenue to try something beyond the basics. What better time to experiment than fall? Change is in the air; it might as well be in your glass, too.

Remember, cocktail creation is one of the most interchangeable, customizable artforms in the restaurant business. The following recipes are just suggestions; feel free to play with them and make them fit your own menu.

Brown Butter Pecanhattan

The Brown Butter Pecanhattan cocktail recipe
  • 2 oz. house-made brown butter bourbon

  • 1 oz. sweet vermouth

  • 2 dashes pecan bitters

  • 2 maraschino cherries, for garnish

  • 1 burnt orange peel, for garnish

Making a brown butter bourbon is a labor of love that cannot be rushed. It’s also a great chance for your kitchen and bar staff to collaborate. In general, a half-pound of butter (always unsalted) per 750 mL bottle of bourbon should be your ratio. Melt the butter over low to medium heat, letting it boil and brown, but be vigilant about stirring and scraping. Once your butter has a deep, golden color, pull it off the heat and let it cool for about an hour. Combine with the bourbon and strain. Remember to keep it stored cold.

This cocktail is velvety and decadent. The rich, nutty flavor of brown butter gives the bourbon a deeper flavor, enhancing its sweetness with an extra note of warmth. The hint of pecan from the bitters (either bought or made in house) plays with the butter to make the normally harsh Manhattan far more accessible. Even burning the orange peel adds an extra dimension to the garnish. It can bring up memories of fireplace cuddling, creating an overall warming of the taste buds and mind.

Fall Mule

The Autumn/Fall Moscow Mule cocktail recipe.
  • 2 oz. pear vodka

  • 2 oz. ginger liquor

  • 2 oz. house-made fig simple syrup

  • 2 oz. prosecco

Seasonal Moscow Mules aren’t going away, and for good reasons. Its undeniable, copper mugs look cool. Then there’s the effervescence from bubbles that makes the Mule so fun to drink. It’s also an extremely basic cocktail, meaning you can apply so many different flavors to it without really compromising its integrity. You should treat it the same way as your chefs create your pasta dishes: take what’s in season and combine.

Using pear, which can feel muted compared to some other flavors, allows you to go bold in other areas. A ginger liquor like Domaine de Canton has serious wow factor; you’ll notice its flavor right away. The fig simple and prosecco float add a touch of elegance to a relatively pedestrian beverage.

Caramel Apple Sidecar

Caramel Apple Sidecar cocktail recipe
  • 2 ½ oz. apple cider

  • 2 oz. brandy

  • ½ oz. Cointreau

  • Splash lemon juice

  • Caramel syrup, for garnish

  • Cinnamon sugar, for garnish

Apple cider is as vital to autumn as North Face vests and Ugg boots. Whether served hot or cold, there is nothing that screams autumn to your taste buds quite like apple cider does. Turning down the volume on the traditional orange flavor and amplifying it with apple mirrors the calendar shifting from summer to fall. Oranges and lemons are down (but not out), and apples are on the rise.

Using a hard cider in this recipe can definitely bump it up a notch, but it may also knock your guests off their bar stools, so exercise caution. Apple and brandy are natural flavor buddies, complimenting each other’s notes perfectly. The sweetness and tartness of the apple tame the heat and spice from the brandy. Rimming the glass with the caramel syrup and cinnamon sugar brings up connotations of apple cider donuts, the fall’s most perfect treat.

Horchaita White Russian

Horchaita White Russian cocktail recipe.
  • 8 oz. house-made chai vodka

  • 4 oz. coffee liquor

  • 2 oz. heavy cream

  • 2 oz. almond liqueur

This grown-up milkshake, beloved by Dudes worldwide, begs to be tinkered with. The bevy of fall spices in chai and horchata make them perfect candidates to cut into this dance. To make the vodka, you can either steep premade chai tea bags in the liquor or create your own spice blend of cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, peppercorns, and ginger.

If that’s enough DIY for you, the combination of cream and almond liqueur will mimic the horchata (and make your drink extra boozy). Should you have the time and energy, however, the love you pour into your own almond/rice/milk/cinnamon concoction will make a more complex flavor combination.

Do not be intimidated by the sheer amount of spices. The milky backing allows for extreme seasoning. If your restaurant features outside seating into the fall, particularly by fireside, this drink is a perfect way to chill out while warming your insides at the same time.