Pumpkin Sickness: The Shift Towards Other Fall Flavors

Come October, we’ve seen it everywhere—in drinks, in food, and decorating every doorstep and window.

It’s pumpkin and many of us are tired of it. But all is not lost. Many bars are creating exciting and innovative cocktail menus without a whiff of the great orange gourd. 

One of these is The Lexington House in Los Gatos, Calif., which changes up the spirits it uses and also looks to incorporate seasonal fruits. Co-owner Jimmy Marino says he’s never used pumpkin.

For the Franciscan cocktail ($12), the bar purees black mission figs with lemon juice, bourbon and water, then marries them with bourbon, gum syrup, lemon juice and Pedro Ximénez sherry. The figs, says Marino, are rich in flavor, and the sherry is heavy on the palate, which helps create “an earthy, nutty drink that is great at the end of summer and the start of fall.” The gum syrup is used in place of simple syrup, he says, because it’s more viscous and heavy and the bourbon, which is often a rye, is fairly spicy.

Marino also offers the Winter Fashion, which is a play on the Old Fashioned, using Armagnac instead of Cognac “which is a rougher spirit and blends well in cocktails and is less expensive than cognac,” he says. He mixes this with Nocino (a walnut liqueur), gum syrup, and walnut bitters. “I feel Cognac is a bit more sweet and refined and the other flavors aren’t really going to lend to it as well; Armagnac has more grip, more rawness. It tends to have a little bit more going on,” he says.

As fall arrives, Marino says, “we tend to stay away from the gin-based cocktails and the really high acid level drinks to drinks that are more spirit forward and heavier on the palate. I use cognac instead of gin in a French 75, for example, because the cognac gives some toasted notes rather than gin, which is bright.”

Instead, he says, he uses more bourbon, rum and spirits like Calvados, as well as ingredients with spice such as Angostura bitters or St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram.

“We change up from lighter and brighter to heavier and richer, and we follow the same concepts with our food too.”

The fall is a natural time to change your menu, Marino says, and at this time of year, a lot of people are craving something different and want the comfort from a fall-like drink.

“It’s a mixture of things that remind you of being a child and of simpler times and when it’s raining and colder, it keeps you warm.”

Zauber Brewing Company in Columbus, Ohio, launched its fall menu this month, and it’s 100% pumpkin-free, featuring a variety of beer cocktails containing its own German and Belgian ales with spirits largely from local distilleries.

One of these is the Oktobershed with Zauber's Oktoberfest beer, Watershed Distillery’s Four Peel Gin, OYO Stone Fruit Vodka (a darker fruit-based vodka) OYO Barrel-Finished Honey Vanilla Bean vodka, lemonade, St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, and a few drops of apple bitters. (Watershed and OYO are both local companies.)

“Every drop counts with apple bitters,” says bar projects manager Oliver Convertini. “I specifically use six drops.”

There’s also the Mad Ginger, which highlights apples instead of pumpkins. It’s made with local Mad Moon (carbonated) cider, Watershed Bourbon-Barrel Gin, fresh lemon juice and Art of the Age Ginger Snap (which has deeper spices with clove, brown sugar, molasses, cinnamon and nutmeg, Convertini says), apple bitters and Angostura bitters—a couple of drops of each.

The Red Brigade features Zauber Berzerker Belgian IPA, Campari, St. Germain and sweet vermouth. “This is my play off a Negroni as a beer cocktail,” Convertini says. “It has a little effervescence from the beer and the St Germain and the vermouth brings a little sweetness. It’s a bright red drink and we garnish it with a cherry in the glass.”

Summer’s End is a drink that tastes exactly as its name describes. It contains Watershed bourbon, peach schnapps, Art of the Age Ginger Snap, sweet vermouth and lemonade and is served over the rocks. “Peaches are a deeper fruit so they go really well with bourbons,” Convertini explains. “The sweet vermouth helps blend the bourbon in with the lemonade. You might get two specific tastes with this drink—sweet then more bitter, but if you bridge the gap it makes things flow really well.”

The fall drinks are important, he says. “It’s about getting a joyful closure of the season you’re leaving and a welcoming embrace into the new one. There’s also some nostalgia with these cocktails. It’s also a way to experience the changing of the seasons.”

At this time of year, Convertini says, “it’s about deeper flavored fruity spirits—switching out lemons and limes and strawberries, and looking at orange, pomegranate or plum. We also use a lot of Grappa-based spirits and ingredients that have more of a base rather than higher acidity.”

Zauber Brewing changes up its beers at this time of year, too, switching from kolsch into pilsners and introducing German alt beers, porters and stouts.

“The biggest thing I try to do when looking at the menu, is I try to make sure everything is balanced and I look at it from the point of view of the customer rather than what’s easy,” Convertini says. “Trends say once October is here, pumpkin beers and pumpkin spiced cocktails are coming out but there are plenty of other flavors in the palate for the fall.”

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