I don’t know what it is but as soon as the weather starts to change I develop an absolute aversion to refreshing, effervescent drinks and immediately crave moodier, more direct cocktails, made with warming fall spirits. The five spirits below are the ones I turn to when I want to forgo the spritzy G&Ts and tequila cocktails of summertime and craft a more seasonally appropriate tipple.
Old Tom and Barrel-Rested Gin. As a surprise to absolutely no one, my favorite spirit to drink when temps start to drop is still gin, just different styles! Old Tom Gin, often thought of as the bridge spirit between malty, sweet Genever and crisp, clean London Dry, is a super approachable style of gin that is either a. post-sweetened and/or b. stored for some amount of time in new or used barrels. Several American distillers have also been releasing barrel rested gins, forgoing the somewhat difficult marketing issue of calling them Old Tom gins, seeing as not very many people know what Old Tom Gin is. My favorites from this category are Ransom Old Tom and Spirit Works Barrel Rested Gin. Once you’re familiar with “Barrel Rested” or “Barrel Finished” Gin, I guarantee you’ll start seeing them everywhere!
Peated Bourbon. Bourbon is a go-to any time of year but when the temps drop and there’s a chill in the air, I like to switch it up to something a bit smokier. Peated Bourbon refers to a Bourbon that has a peated malt – heavy mash bill. Meaning in addition to corn, they’ve added some percentage of peated malted barley into their mash and fermentation. The addition of peated malt gives the finished whiskey a bit more richness and smokey flavor than what you would normally find in a textbook Bourbon. King’s County in Brooklyn makes a great version that’s lightly smoky without being over-powering. Aged for at least one year and incorporating just 15% peated malt, it’s a beautiful entry point into the world of peated whiskeys and Scotch whiskeys.
Mezcal. Mezcal is an incredibly complex spirit with strong similarities to Scotch in its smoky qualities. A cousin to Tequila, this agave spirit is made from fermented agave that has been charred, roasted and smoked, as opposed to just roasted or steamed, as is customary for Tequila. The more aggressive cooking methods applied to the agave give the spirit tons of smokey character, making it an incredible addition to cocktails. Enjoying Mezcal straight is very similar to enjoying Scotch straight, in that (in my opinion) – working up to the keyword here – enjoying the experience is somewhat of an acquired taste. Nonetheless, once you get used to Mezcal, you’ll never go back. It has an incredibly rich sense of terroir, more so than any other spirit, which makes you’ll taste wildly varying differences between Mezcals from distillers and producers, just based the region the agave was grown in. Check out my guide to Mezcal here – Part 1 & Part 2.
Sloe Gin. Sloe Gin is another one of those niche styles of gin I turn to when the leaves change! You can read more about sloe gin here, but it’s basically a gin that has been steeped with sloe berries and then post-sweetened, technically making it a liqueur. Don’t let the “liqueur” label scare you, as the natural tartness of the sloe berries negates any cloying sweetness. Enjoy it neat, in a cocktail, as a substitute for sweet vermouth, or even warm! as they do in Scotland. My favorites are Plymouth, Spirit Works, Greenhook, and Boodles.
Spiced Rum. Spiced rum is perhaps the most obvious spirit for the cooler, festive months and I’m happy to say that there are several high-quality, craft options hitting the market these days. Two, in fact, can be found right here in San Diego! Malahat Spiced Rum is an absolutely delicious concoction of warm spices and Liberty Call is made with lots of cinnamon and clove. I like to enjoy Spiced Rum in big batch cocktails, as the spiciness and gentle sweetness are crowdpleasers, making them great for gatherings.
What are your favorite fall spirits? Let me know in the comments below! // Top image via.