The old-school rule about not wearing white after Labor Day has long since gone away, but there are plenty of other signs to mark the changing season. The air smells fresh and crisp, the leaves begin to change, and sandcastles and beach volleyball give way to pumpkin-carving and football. The same holds true for entertaining, so pack away your summer cocktails until next year and explore these beautifully autumnal options instead.
If lush, fruity sangria is your summer sipper of choice, consider adapting that hot-weather standby to a suitably autumnal apple-based version. Choose bright, colorful apples — ideally one golden, one red and one green, for the visual contrast — and slice them paper-thin. Drop quartered slices into a pitcher of apple juice, which provides the acidity you’ll need to keep the apples from turning brown.
Add enough apple brandy — imported French calvados or good old American applejack — to give your drinks a warming kick. Use 1 part brandy to 4 parts juice for a good mix. Finish the mixture by adding hard cider at the last minute so its refreshing carbonation isn’t lost. You’ll need 2 cups of cider for every cup of the juice and brandy mixture.
If honey-sweet pears are your favorite fall fruit, it’s a simple switch to showcase those instead. Choose slightly under-ripe pears in the same colors — they’ll hold their shape better if they aren’t fully ripe — and slice them in place of the apples. Add a splash of pear nectar to the apple juice for flavor and replace the apple cider with pear cider if you can find it.
Pumpkin and Spice, and Everything Nice
Let the neighbors obsess about whose copycat pumpkin latte is closest to the cafe original. We’re sooo past that, right? While the kids practice their pumpkin-carving on your pumpkin-themed cutting board under suitable supervision, you can take the latte obsession to a whole new level with a martini that captures those elusive flavors.
Start by rimming the martini glasses, just to make them extra-special. Crush a bag of graham crackers with your rolling pin to suggest a pie crust or — even better — thin, crisp, spicy gingersnaps. Pour the crumbs carefully into a shallow bowl or small plate, just large enough for your martini glasses. Run a honey-dipped finger around the rims to make them sticky, then dip them into the crumbs to coat them.
Pour milk into your cocktail shaker and add a tablespoon or two of pumpkin puree, which both thickens and flavors the drink. Shake vigorously until it’s well-mixed and frothy, then add a shot of your favorite coffee liqueur to simulate the espresso and two shots of vanilla vodka as a stand-in for the whipped cream topping. Shake again with ice and strain it into the rimmed martini glass. Garnish with a pinch of mace or a cinnamon stick.
This cinnamon garnish actually brings to mind another recipe we have for oatmeal cookie shots and cocktails. One of the shots there is topped with ground cinnamon–something that always conjures images of fall or the holidays.
Cranberries are a traditional accompaniment to holiday meals, partly for their vivid color and partly because their tart flavor makes a pleasant counterpart to the rich food. Crisp, refreshing, sparkling wines have the same effect, so a cranberry-themed champagne cocktail is an excellent way to combine the two. Just pour cranberry juice cocktail into champagne flutes, top up the glasses with sparkling wine and garnish with a fresh cranberry or two on a skewer.
For a more sophisticated version, opt for unsweetened cranberry juice and balance it out with a splash of sweet pear nectar. When you top up each glass with sparkling wine, the two signature autumn flavors combine to give the drink a silky, golden-pink hue that suggests the tones of fall leaves.
Don’t Overthink It
You don’t necessarily have to come up with something new and exciting for every single drink that’s on offer. Many established favorites are well-suited for autumn tippling in their own right. If you ordinarily serve martinis, switch to Manhattans instead. The richer, slightly smoky flavor of the whiskey and the hint of sweetness from the vermouth make it a perfect sweater-weather alternative.
Longtime cocktail standards sometimes already even include signature autumn ingredients. A Cosmopolitan combines tart, colorful cranberry juice with vodka and your favorite citrus liqueur. Pair one or two of these all-time favorites with a similar number of unusual seasonal offerings, and you’re all set. Chalk up the drinks menu on your kitchen chalkboard for an authentic barroom touch, and you’re ready to entertain.
Over to You
This small handful of suggestions barely scratches the surface of autumn’s awesome cocktail potential. How do you go about bringing fall’s signature flavors into a glass? Do you pick an ingredient as your starting point or perhaps try to replicate the tastes of a favorite dessert? Use the “Comments” section below to show off your own creativity (it’s OK to brag a little … we won’t mind).