In the Spirit: Fall Cocktails and Ciders.

It never fails, the Halloween decorations seem to make their appearance in stores earlier and earlier every year. This is an eminent sign that Fall is right around the corner. I love Autumn, and everything that goes along with it, especially the cooler weather inspired cocktails. Using seasonal ingredients, whether it be in cooking or bartending, has always been important to me. Buying local, supporting community vendors, small businesses, and farmer’s markets helps to keep our small town thriving and strong.

Beautiful seasonal ingredients such as granny smith apples, pears, pumpkin, cranberries, and cinnamon pair perfectly with hard ciders, local bourbons and whiskeys, and of course, ginger beer. Whether you’re looking for a delicious mulled cider to keep you warm on those chilly Autumn nights, or a fizzy whiskey sour to perk you up, I’ll be introducing to you a few different fall cocktail ideas as well as some different ways to create some unique drinks of your own.

Our friends over at Smooth Ambler, located right here in Greenbrier County, have some wonderful spirits that would be the perfect component to an Autumn inspirited cocktail. The ‘Big Level’ bourbon, with notes of toffee, pecan pie, and caramel, would be the perfect highlight to a maple-bourbon old-fashioned. ‘Contradiction’, a blended whiskey also sourced from Smooth Ambler, would be great for a fall-inspired whiskey sour, using candied cranberries instead of the classic maraschino cherry as well as a homemade cinnamon simple syrup. Simple syrup is so easy to make, hence the name. A classic simple syrup is equal parts water and sugar, boiled down to create a thick, sweet syrup that is utilized in many different ways. To make a special simple syrup with other ingredients, all you have to do is add said ingredient into the mixture as it’s reducing down and let it steep which will infuse the flavors. Remember that delicious hot mulled cider I talked about previously? Break out the Makers Mark, throw in some local hot apple cider, a dash of allspice, and garnish with a cinnamon stick and a lemon slice. It couldn’t be any simpler than that.

Having moved to West Virginia (kind of) recently, I’ve discovered a handful of hidden gems within the community. One of them being Smooth Ambler, of course, as well as Hawk Knob Appalachian Hard Cider & Mead, with a tasting room located right here in Lewisburg. For those who don’t know, mead is an alcoholic beverage that exists in its own distinct category, just like cider. It is fermented with three basic ingredients: honey, yeast, and water. Mead can often be flavored with various fruits and will sometimes be referred to as “honey wine”. Class dismissed. Back to my original point: Hawk Knob and their delicious products… The Cyser, which is the apple-honey mead, combines the juice of heirloom apples with wildflower honey that it produced locally within the region. It is then aged on French and American oak and has a rich buttery finish, almost like a Chardonnay. If apples and honey don’t scream Fall, then I don’t know what will. Hawk Knob also has a wide variety of delicious hard ciders including a dried cherry hard cider, which showcases ripe summer and crisp fall fruits as well as an Elderberry infused hard cider.

While we’re on the subject of all things Fall, why not throw some pumpkin spice in there too, for lack of better words, spice things up. You either love it or you hate it, but you simply cannot deny that anything pumpkin flavored will always remind you of Fall and Grandma’s house on Thanksgiving. Pumpkin puree can wear many hats in Autumn cocktail-making. And maybe you’d rather drink your dessert than eat it anyway. Let’s talk about a classic that’s super easy to make: A pumpkin pie martini. All this martini asks for is a little vanilla vodka, some pumpkin puree, caramel syrup, and a small dash of cinnamon. Pour all of your ingredients into a shaker with a few ice cubes and strain into a martini glass rimmed with a sugar-cinnamon mix. Another delicious cocktail that will utilize that pumpkin puree is the pumpkin caipirinha. For this cocktail, you’ll need half a lime cut into wedges, ½ ounce of agave nectar, one teaspoon of freshly grated ginger, 1 ½ ounces of cachaça, and 1 ½ ounces of pumpkin puree. Muddle the lime, nectar, and fresh ginger in the bottom of a cocktail shaker, add the rest of your ingredients along with some ice, shake and strain into a lowball filled with ice, and garnish with a little fresh grated nutmeg and voila!

Creating a spin on your own fall-inspired cocktails can be super easy and fun. Pick your favorite liquor, test out a few seasonal ingredients, and taste, taste, taste! It’s easy to decipher what goes together and what doesn’t and it certainly doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Set a date to have some friends over for a cocktail-making party. Ask them each to bring a few different ingredients and liquors to experiment with. Chances are, you’ll come up with a handful of killer cocktails that will be perfect for the Fall season that you can proudly showcase at your next cocktail party.

– Katelynn Watson, sommelier at The Greenbrier Resort. HashtagWV #105. September 2018

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