One day, the inevitable question, "What should I drink this fall?" will be easily answered with the creation of a maple-infused apple cidertini with poached cranberries and a cinnamon foam top. However, the occasion is not today, and it’s certainly not in Austin. The fall cocktail is simply too obvious in a town where craft cocktail culture is anything but stale. Instead, Austin bartenders are offering up autumnal variations on cocktail classics, avoiding the heavy handedness so often used in crafting seasonal drinks. Those searching for the alcoholic redundancy of a pumpkin spice latte with the subtlety of a Tory Burch handbag should look elsewhere.
First, there’s Fixe’s Smoked Sazerac. A collaboration between assistant general manager Bryan King and chef de cuisine Zach Hunter, the cocktail features the traditional rye whiskey, absinthe, bitters, and lemon, and yet manages to elevate the classic with the in-house infusion of smoke and vanilla bean. The cocktail is then finished with an hoja santa leaf from HausBar Farm, carrying the unmistakable flavor of root beer. The result is surprisingly finespun without being overwrought. "It’s always exciting to put together a drink that you’re proud of," said King. "I would order this all day long."
The drink joins the Autumn Shrub as a seasonal addition to southern restaurant’s year-round cocktail menu. Made with Belvedere Vodka, velvet falernum (a sweet, spiced Caribbean liqueur), and persimmon shrub, the cocktail is rimmed with a sweet, acidic jam made from Lindera Farms’ black locust vinegar. According to Hunter, the vinegar "excites the palate" while helping cut through the sweetness of the shrub, which allows the other flavors to shine. It’s quintessentially fall without being explicit.
A fall cocktail should have a sense of warmth and boldness to itThere’s also Whisler’s play on a rum punch called the Milkman’s Kid made with cognac, root liquor, milk, honey, and vanilla and El Cochito at The Living Room in The W Hotel, with Roca Patron Anejo, St. George spiced pear, agave, lemon, and old-fashioned bitters. Both cocktails reflect the season without relying on stereotypical ingredients, and for Drink.Well’s Michael Sanders, that’s the point. "A fall cocktail should have a sense of warmth and boldness to it. The weather is getting cooler, so you are able to use some stronger flavors that may have felt overpowering in the summer," he said.
The Townsend’s Justin Elliott agreed, saying that a fall cocktail should be evocative, as opposed to demonstrative. His bar program strives to be timeless—playing on classic cocktail idioms—while recognizing some drinks may be more suited to "drink good" in the fall. One such example is the Carriage House. Made with Old Tom Gin, Tequila Ocho Reposado, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, and Cynar (an artichoke-based bitter liqueur), the result is burnt amber in color with bright, earthy flavors. "To make fall cocktails in this market and to just throw a bunch of apple brandy and maple syrup at it is disingenuous or at least wishful thinking," he said, adding, "It’s still Texas."