I have nothing against celebrating pumpkin during the fall months, but when it comes to drinking and eating from September to December, America’s pumpkin tunnel vision can become downright exhausting. There are so many other autumn flavors out there to enjoy; it’s a shame to waste the entire season focused on one ingredient. Plus, I can’t name a single cocktail that has incorporated the squash in a flattering manner.
So here are some alternative options for imbibing this month and into the next. Celebrate the cool weather with warm liquid ingredients such as earthy aged tequilas, oaky whiskey, lush vermouth and herbal bitters. Most classy cocktail bars around town will avoid the pumpkin martini trap and opt for more sophisticated expressions of the season. Below are a few from new and notable bar programs across the city.
No Va White Sangria
One of Rainey Street’s newest spots for cocktails and food, No Va is arguably the first place in the district making elevated cocktails. The fall menu brings all sorts of warm flavors to the table, as well as a few interesting beer cocktails. While the Mezcal Old Fashioned and the Coffee-infused Cynar drinks had me at hello, the White Sangria stole the show with its deep, complex soul.
White wine acts as the focal point for any sangria, but it’s the aged rum and Armagnac (a French brandy aged in oak barrels) that spike this mix with a rich, deep, boozy bellow. Baking spices, soft pear and earthy sage round out the sweetness in the wine, and spice syrup brings out the darker side of the vanilla and oak from the brandy. This cocktail has holiday dinner companion written all over it.
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3 oz. dry white wine
1 oz. Armagnac
1 oz. Bacardi 8
1.5 oz. spiced pear juice
1 oz. lemon juice
1 oz. cinnamon/five spice syrup
To make the cinnamon/five spice syrup, combine 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water in a pot. Bring water to a boil. Reduce heat and add 3 cinnamon sticks and 1 tbsp. five spice powder. Let syrup simmer and reduce. Taste to make sure the spices have thoroughly infused in the mix. Let cool before using.
To make the cocktail, shake ingredients together with ice vigorously until chilled. Pour into a fresh glass over new ice. Garnish with slices of pear and sage leaves. Makes 2 drinks.
Qui Devilwood Sour
Qui’s cocktail program started strong when they opened earlier this year and has maintained a high level of quality and consistency despite the recent departure of bar manager Michael Simon. The Devilwood Sour celebrates the lighter side of the season, perfect for those bizarre Central Texas days where the temperature randomly jumps back into the 80s.
Agave-based spirit sotol provides the foundation for this frothy drink. If you haven’t had sotol before, it’s like a grassy, gritty tequila. A small supporting half-ounce of blanco tequila is added for sweetness; the spirits perk up with both lemon and lime juices and smooth out with the silky goodness of egg whites.
The wild card in the sour is the osmanthus syrup. “Osmanthus is a blossom from a shrub that’s part of a more general species of shrub, trees, and vines,” Qui bartender Rachel DelRocco says. “It’s native to warm, temperate climates, especially Southeast Asia, but there is a certain genus of it that grows in Texas and northern Mexico. It is floral, perfume-y with some juicy orange citrus notes which I thought would pair nicely with the florality and citrus of a highland tequila or Tapatio in particular and sotol.”
1 oz. sotol
1/2 oz. tequila
1/2 oz. lemon
1/2 oz. lime
1 oz. osmanthus syrup
1 egg white
Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker without ice. Shake until the egg white can integrate into the liquid ingredients. Add ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with nutmeg.
Jeffrey’s Bobby Burns
Bar manager Josh Loving says the bar program at the reopened Jeffrey’s focuses on presenting a list of conservative, booze-forward cocktails for the intimate, stately space. At arguably the highest cocktail prices in town (most ring in around $12-$14), the lack of hit-or-miss experimentation is welcome. The talented staff will make some of the most balanced and trusted classics and house cocktails with an assuring nod and quick stir.
This traditional Scotch cocktail is named after Scottish poet Robert Burns, and Jeffrey’s makes it with a balance and intricacy worthy of the finest prose. Sometimes you’ll see this drink mixed with Angostura bitters, but Loving decided it would be more appropriate to serve the slightly less bitter version of the cocktail for patrons. The drink is served with a garnish that’s said to be the traditional accompaniment, a shortbread cookie. “Depending on your historical source, they’ll say Bobby Burns is served with a shortbread cookie,” Loving says. “I thought, we’re going to have an in-house baker, it would be silly not to do the tried and true Bobby Burns with a little cookie.”
2 oz. Black Grouse
75 oz. Carpano Antica
.25 oz. Benedictine
Combine ingredients in a pint glass with ice and stir until chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Serve with a shortbread or oatmeal cookie on the side.
Taverna Electrify Me
For a slightly more casual cocktail experience, turn to the bar at Taverna on West Second Street. The Italian restaurant serves a small but thoughtful list of house drinks that includes the sweet, cider-like Electrify Me.
Vodka acts as the blank slate for an abundance of apple in this juicy cocktail. Cinnamon is a natural fit, but the intriguing addition of sage into the vodka infusion binds together the otherwise crunchy apple flavors with a soft, dark herbal note. Limoncello brings in a zesty citrus profile, making sure the final drink doesn’t weigh too heavily on the apple side. Overall, it’s well balanced and thirst-quenching.
1.5 oz. infused Absolut vodka (see note)
1 oz. apple juice
.5 oz. limoncello
Stir ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice until chilled. Strain over ice into a rocks glass. Garnish with apple slice.
Note: For Absolut infusion: 1.5 cups Absolut vodka, 1 cup red apples, 6 dashes cinnamon, pinch of sage. Shake ingredients together in bottle. Let sit for two days. Strain out solid ingredients.