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Autumn cocktails light, bright, delicious

By J.M. HIRSCH, Associated Press
Published: October 19, 2022, 6:04am
4 Photos
A spiced apple cocktail, from left, a pumpkin spice martini and a buttered rum cocktail.
A spiced apple cocktail, from left, a pumpkin spice martini and a buttered rum cocktail. (Callum Duffy) Photo Gallery

Apple pie! Pumpkin spice! Buttered rum! This is how we embrace autumn at our home bar.

Despite the drop in temperatures, cocktails flavored for fall don’t need to taste deep, brooding or heavy. There are plenty of ways to harness the ingredients we associate with the season to craft cocktails that remain light and bright, yet also richly satisfying.

It’s also an excellent opportunity to explore liquors you might not normally be drawn to. One of the fascinating aspects of cocktails is the unexpected ways that liquors can be transformed depending on how and with what they are mixed.

These transformations give us the space to experiment and discover drinks we never knew we would enjoy. This is where “I don’t like rum” becomes “I like rum when …”

Consider the Pumpkin Spice Martini. Vodka can be harsh, but in this cocktail — flavored by apple cider, chocolate and orange bitters, and, of course, pumpkin pie spice — it’s as rich as it is sweet.

Or, if you don’t consider yourself a whiskey drinker, take a sip of the Spiced Apple Cocktail, which flavors naturally sweet bourbon with crushed fresh apple. It also delivers a push-and-pull of sweet vanilla and a hit of spice thanks to two liqueurs — one sweet, the other spicy.

And rum takes a luscious turn in a Buttered Rum that defies tradition. Most versions of this cocktail are served warm, a pool of melted butter melding with the liquor. But here it’s turned it into a chilled drink by using a simple and speedy technique that adds the flavor — but not the fat — of the butter, along with a hit of nutmeg and hard apple cider.

Pumpkin Spice Martini

This is your pumpkin spice latte of cocktails. A quick reduction of apple cider provides sweet and tangy notes that play perfectly with pumpkin pie spices. Naturally sweet bourbon is excellent in this cocktail, but vodka also is an excellent choice. Keep a close eye on the cider during the final five minutes of simmering. As it reduces to a syrup, it can quickly go from thick and delicious to burned and smoking. The combination of chocolate and orange bitters is wonderful, but if you only have one, the cocktail still will be delicious.

1 cup apple cider

⅛ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

3 ounces vodka

Dash chocolate bitters

Dash orange bitters

6 to 10 granules kosher salt

Ice cubes

In a saucepan over low, simmer the cider and pumpkin pie spice until thick and reduced to 2 tablespoons, 10 to 15 minutes. Cool completely, then pour into a cocktail shaker (use a silicone spatula to scrape the pan to get all of the syrup). Add the bourbon or vodka, chocolate bitters, orange bitters and salt. Shake with ice cubes. Strain into a coupe.

Spiced Apple Cocktail

Slices of fresh apple add both flavorful juice and gentle sweetness to this bourbon-based cocktail. Use apples with high acidity and lots of flavor, such as Honeycrisp or Macoun. Licor 43 is a Spanish liqueur with vanilla notes, while Ancho Reyes has mild chili heat. The combination creates a sweet, savory and gently spicy cocktail.

2 large, thin slices fresh apple

¼ ounce agave or simple syrup

2 ounces bourbon

¼ ounce Licor 43

¼ ounce Ancho Reyes

Dash orange bitters

6 to 10 granules kosher salt

Ice, cubes and crushed

In a stirring glass, aggressively muddle the apple slices and syrup. Add the bourbon, Licor 43, Ancho Reyes, bitters and salt. Stir with ice cubes, then double strain into a coupe filled halfway with crushed ice.

Buttered Rum

Traditionally, a Buttered Rum is a warm cocktail in which a pat of butter is melted into a heated blend of rum, apple cider and spices. To give this wonderful flavor combination year-round appeal, I borrowed a technique often used with whiskey — fat washing. This involves adding a flavorful fatty ingredient, such as bacon or butter, to a liquor. After a brief infusion, it is chilled so the fat is easily strained out, leaving only its flavor behind. In this case, the result is buttery-rich rum, the perfect foil for bright hard apple cider.

2 ounces aged rum

1 tablespoon melted butter

¼ ounce orange liqueur

¼ ounce agave or simple syrup

Pinch grated nutmeg

Ice cubes

1 ounce hard apple cider

In a small glass, stir together the rum and butter. Let sit for 5 minutes, then place in the freezer for 10 minutes. Line a mesh cocktail strainer with cheesecloth, then pour the butter-rum mixture through it and into a cocktail shaker. Discard the butter. Add the orange liqueur, syrup and nutmeg, then shake with ice cubes. Strain into a coupe, then top with the cider.