Pumpkin, that ubiquitous fall flavor, is making its mark in the cocktail world. Bartenders are incorporating the gourd in various ways, from puréeing and mixing it into drinks and syrups to infusing spirits and experimenting with pumpkin pie spices. Most mixologists agree that dark spirits—aged rums, whiskies, Cognacs, and even Tequila or mezcal—blend beautifully with pumpkin.
“Pumpkin purée adds a new layer of texture to cocktails, and infusing drinks with fresh pumpkin adds a nice, semi-sweet vegetal quality,” says Jamal Giles, the lead bartender at Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill in Miami. One of Sugarcane’s top-selling fall drinks last year was the Flying Gourd, featuring Rittenhouse rye whiskey infused in-house with roasted pumpkin and blended with Harpoon Brewery’s Imperial Pumpkin beer. The cocktail also features house-made chai syrup, served in a glass rimmed with powdered pumpkin seeds and garnished with a small gourd. This year, Giles is offering a sweeter frozen drink incorporating Brugal Añejo rum, pumpkin purée and Kelvin Slush Co. piña syrup.
Traditional pumpkin pie spices—cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice and clove—create strong flavors. Jeramy Campbell, the beverage director at Juliet Ristorante in Austin, Texas, notes that while pumpkin spice is bold, it can be a great addition to fall cocktail menus when used correctly. “People love the nostalgia of it,” he says. “It’s recognizable to everyone. Pumpkin spice can create a beautiful, balanced drink and goes very well with cream.”
Campbell offers two fall pumpkin cocktails that incorporate his house-made pumpkin spice gum syrup, which is made with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice and clove. His Brom Bones ($12), named after the Headless Horseman, mixes High West Rendezvous rye whiskey, Graham’s 20-year-old Tawny Port, Equipo Navazos En Rama Fino Sherry and pumpkin spice gum syrup, topped with house-made pumpkin spice whipped cream and grated nutmeg. Campbell also serves the Rumkin Spiced Latte ($12), a warm drink that blends Smith and Cross Navy Strength rum, Bénédictine liqueur, espresso, pumpkin spice gum syrup and steamed milk.
Evan Puchalsky, senior director of global partnerships for The One Group, uses pumpkin spice and pumpkin purée behind the bar. At the upscale Los Angeles steakhouse STK, Puchalsky offers a pumpkin-enhanced Old Fashioned ($16) made with Basil Hayden’s Bourbon, Grand Marnier orange liqueur, pumpkin purée and maple syrup, and the Autumn Princess ($16), a blend of Belvedere vodka, muddled cranberries, pumpkin spice, lemon juice, simple syrup and egg whites. “Pumpkin adds warmth and comfort, which is what fall drinks are all about, and it pairs perfectly with spirits,” Puchalsky says.
At the restaurant Ox & Son in Santa Monica, California, beverage director Jordan Delp’s Pumpkin Old Fashioned ($14) mixes puréed pumpkin with Woodford Reserve Bourbon, Miracle Mile Toasted Pecan bitters, and allspice- and clove-infused Demerara syrup, while his Potter’s Pumpkin Fizz ($12) blends puréed pumpkin with Old Forester Bourbon, Cock’n Bull Ginger Beer, heavy cream, egg white, maple syrup and allspice. “Pumpkin purée has a velvety quality,” Delp says. “People love it when it’s executed right. Pumpkin adds complexity and richness, and it pairs well with bold flavors.”
At Gracie’s in Providence, Rhode Island, bar manager Kristi Dukoff slow-roasts pumpkin and apples for 24 hours and then infuses the mixture into Sons of Liberty Pumpkin Spice whiskey. She barrel-ages the infusion in new charred American oak for three weeks and serves it over ice, topped with Berkshire Brewing Co.’s Oktoberfest lager, in the Vidi Viti Pumpkin ($16). Similarly, Mike DeFalco, the food and beverage manager at NoMa Social in New Rochelle, New York, enhances pre-made pumpkin spirits. The Pumpkin Spice Martini ($12) blends Molly’s Irish Cream Pumpkin Spice liqueur with Absolut Vanilia vodka and Kahlúa coffee liqueur, while the Pumpkin Pie cocktail ($12) comprises Hiram Walker Pumpkin Spice liqueur, Frangelico liqueur and Fireball Cinnamon whisky.
While pumpkin spice used to be most popular in cold climates, its surge now extends virtually everywhere. “Pumpkin can provide flavor, texture and dimension to any cocktail,” says Andrea Hoover, beverage operations manager for Cameron Mitchell Restaurants, which operates more than 20 units in 11 states. “It’s often a short window, but guests love pumpkin in the cooler months.”