Pumpkin Cocktails That Don't Suck

We’re not off our gourd: these autumnal squash drinks are actually delicious.

From lattes and cookies to lotion and candles, you can’t escape pumpkin spice this time of year. Whether you adore or abhor the autumnal blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and ginger, it can get to be a bit too much. After you’ve donned that cozy sweater and felt the leaves crunch under your boots on that walk to the patch to find that perfect orange orb, mix up these cocktails that let the vegetable--not just the spices--shine. Halloween is the perfect excuse to mix these up!

Jack and Sally

Recipe courtesy of Nickel & Diner, New York, NY

courtesy Nickel & Diner

courtesy Nickel & Diner

"The Jack and Sally is the perfect fall libation with unique, global flavors,” says operating partner Selwyn Chan. “The smokiness of the mezcal contrasts the the sweetness of the cinnamon syrup and the richness of the pumpkin butter to create a perfectly balanced cocktail, with nutmeg as the quintessential autumn cocktail garnish.” Mezcal, the traditional agave spirit of Oaxaca, Mexico, where Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) celebrations are most festively celebrated, makes this a worthy cocktail to serve in remembrance of loved ones during this harvest season festival.

  • 1 ½ oz. mezcal (the bar uses Montelobos joven)

  • ¾ oz. fresh lime juice

  • ½ oz. cinnamon syrup (recipe follows)

  • 1 bar spoon of pumpkin butter (available in most grocery stores)

  • ½ oz. egg white

  • Freshly grated nutmeg, for garnish

Add the first five ingredients to a cocktail shaker and shake for 10 seconds without ice to foam the egg white. Add ice and shake again until well-chilled. Double strain into a coupe glass and garnish with the grated nutmeg.

For the cinnamon syrup:

Add 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water to a small saucepan, bring to a boil and let sugar dissolved. Remove it from the heat, add 2 cinnamon sticks and steep for 15 minutes or until desired flavor is achieved. Strain out solids. 

Autumn Flyer

Recipe courtesy of Chris Burmeister, Lead Bartender, Citizen Rail, Denver, CO

courtest Citizen Rail

courtest Citizen Rail

“The Autumn Flyer is a seasonal twist on a classic flip style cocktail,” says Burmeister. “The addition of demerara sugar combined with the rum provides a caramel-molasses flavor while the pumpkin butter lends both sweetness and spice to the cocktail, [and] incorporating a whole egg provides a frothy eggnog-like texture, perfect for crisp fall nights.”

  • 1 ½ oz. Basil Hayden’s Bourbon

  • ½ oz. blackstrap rum

  • ¾ oz. demerara syrup (equal parts demerara sugar and water, simmered until sugar dissolves)

  • 1 heaping bar spoon pumpkin butter

  • 1 whole egg

  • Pumpkin pie spice, for garnish

Add the first five ingredients to a cocktail shaker, add ice and shake until well chilled. Remove the ice and shake again until the egg is nice and frothy. Double strain into a Georgian glass and garnish with the pumpkin pie spice. 

Coffin Season

Recipe courtesy of Nick Farrell, Spirits Manager, Iron Gate, Washington, D.C.

“Pumpkin drinks should taste like real pumpkin, not ‘pumpkin spices,’ so we wanted to do something that had a couple of layers of real pumpkin flavor, and a creamy texture, without being overbearing or cloyingly sweet,” Farrell says. 

courtesy Iron Gate

courtesy Iron Gate

  • 2 oz. pumpkin-infused Barrel Aged Tsipouro or other aged brandy such as Cognac or aged American brandy (recipe follows)

  • 1 oz. brown sugar spice syrup (see recipe below)

  • ½ oz. Nardini Amaro

  • Grated nutmeg, for garnish

Add the first three ingredients to a cocktail glass, add ice and stir until well-chilled. Strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice and garnish with grated nutmeg.

For the pumpkin-infused aged brandy:

Roast 2 cups chopped 1-inch cubes of pumpkin or butternut squash in the oven at 450 degrees for 25 minutes. Let cool and add to a 750 ml bottle of the brandy. Let infuse for 24 hours, then strain out solids.

For the brown sugar spice syrup:

Heat 2 cups light brown sugar, 2 cups hot water, 2 cinnamon sticks and 8 star anise pods on medium-low heat for 15 minutes. Let cool and then strain out solids. Store the syrup in the refrigerator for up to a week.   

Pumpkin Smash

Recipe courtesy of Matt Giarratano, Bar Manager, Bluebird Distilling, Phoenixville, PA

"The Pumpkin Smash is Bluebird Distilling's submission to autumn's annual pumpkin spice craze,” Giarratano says. “The raw, earthy qualities of Bluebird's unaged white rye whiskey create a natural pairing for pumpkin.”

courtesy Bluebird Distilling

courtesy Bluebird Distilling

  • 1 oz. vanilla-infused Bluebird Distilling White Rye Whiskey (see below for instructions)

  • ½ oz. allspice-infused Bluebird Distilling White Rye Whiskey (see below for instructions)

  • ¾ oz. demerara syrup (equal parts demerara sugar and water, simmered until sugar dissolves)

  • ¼ oz. lemon juice

  • ½ oz. egg white

  • 2 bar spoons Libby’s canned pumpkin

  • Grated cinnamon, for garnish

Add the first six ingredients to a cocktail shaker, add ice and shake until well-chilled and frothy. Remove the ice from the shaker and shake the ingredients again. Strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice and garnish with freshly grated cinnamon.

For the vanilla-infused white rye whiskey:

Pour 8 oz. white rye whiskey into a glass bottle with a tightly fitting lid or cap. Split open 2 vanilla beans and add them to the bottle. Close, shake and store in a cool, dark place for a few days or up to a week, until desired flavor is reached, shaking the bottle several times a day. Strain out solids.

For the allspice-infused white rye whiskey:

Crush 2 tablespoons allspice berries in a mortar and pestle. Add them to a glass bottle along with 8 oz. white rye whiskey. Close, shake and store in a cool dark place for a few days or up to a week, until desired flavor is reached, shaking the bottle several times a day. Strain out solids. 

Pumpkin Queen

Recipe courtesy of Jocelynn Nelson, Bartender, Pennyroyal, Seattle, WA

photo by Anya Bacon

photo by Anya Bacon

Nelson was inspired by her and her sister’s shared love of Halloween to create something they could both sip around the October holiday. “The trick to making amazing pumpkin cocktails is to keep it simple--I chose a warm, sweet but spicy rum and ingredients to enhance these flavors,” she says. “The pumpkin infusion brings the cocktail to the next level with a nod to the fall season.”

  • 2 oz. pumpkin-infused dark rum (recipe follows)

  • ½ oz. Grand Marnier (or other orange liqueur such as Cointreau)

  • ¾ oz. St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram

  • 3-4 dashes cardamom bitters, or Angostura

  • ½ oz. lemon juice

  • 2 slices fresh ginger

  • Star anise, for garnish

Add the ginger and the lemon juice to a cocktail shaker and muddle the ginger. Add all the other ingredients except the garnish, add ice and shake for 10-15 seconds until well-chilled. Double-strain into a Nick and Nora glass and garnish with the star anise.

For the pumpkin-infused rum:

Cut a small pie pumpkin into one-inch chunks (discarding the seeds) and bake uncovered at 450 degrees for 20 minutes. Flip pieces and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, checking often for doneness. (The pumpkin is ready when a fork easily slides into it.) Let the pieces cool, place them in a mason jar and fill the jar with dark rum. Set in a cool, dry place for up to three days. Using a cheesecloth or fine strainer, strain out solids.

Once Upon a Time in Mexico

Recipe courtesy of Drew Hairston, Beverage Manager, Dirty Habit, Washington, D.C.

courtesy Dirty Habit

courtesy Dirty Habit

The rich mole that remains from making the syrup for this cocktail and the use of mezcal make it another worthy drink to make to honor the departed for Dîa de los Muertos—especially since the leftover sauce can be used to smother on turkey or as a filling for empanadas, Hairston recommends.

1 oz. Ilegal Mezcal Joven

1 oz. Santa Teresa 1796 Solera Cask Rum

1 oz. pumpkin mole poblano syrup (recipe follows)

2 heavy dashes Bittermens Xocolatl Bitters

Add all ingredients into a mixing glass, add ice and stir until well-chilled. Strain into a double Old Fashioned or rocks glass over fresh ice.

For the pumpkin mole poblano syrup:

In a wide, medium height saucepan, toast 1 ½ cups shelled and unseasoned pumpkin seeds, ¾ cup walnuts, ½ cup black sesame seeds, 3 cinnamon sticks, ½ cup cumin seeds, 1 cup dried cranberries, 8 oz. dried poblano peppers and ¼ cup black peppercorns until fragrant and ingredients begin to develop a light char. (Pay close attention to the color of the poblano peppers and cranberries.) Remove all ingredients from the pan and place in a powerful food processor and grind all ingredients to a fine spice powder. Add the spice powder to 1 gallon of water and boil until fragrant and pepper and cranberries start to rehydrate and float to the top, about 15 minutes. Using a chinois or fine mesh sieve, strain the “spice tea” and discard any solids. Reserve the tea in a saucepan and add 2 oz. unsweetened dark chocolate, 12 cups unsweetened pumpkin puree and ¾ gallon agave nectar. Simmer until well incorporated and a rich orange/bronze color. Season to taste with sea salt. Let the mixture cool, run it through a chinois, pressing the puree through it and catch the loose liquid in a container. Reserve the liquid as the cocktail syrup, and store in the refrigerator for up to a week.