If you haven’t heard, pumpkins have peaked. Sure, the naysayers are as of yet a minority — count John Oliver and our own Chris Wright among them — but ask yourself: where can pumpkins go from here? Beyond pumpkin spice beers and pumpkin spice lattes, there’s pumpkin spice gum, hummus, Pringles (seriously), and all too much more. It’s really no wonder so many people were willing to believe in pumpkin spice tampons.
Rather than spice things up with pumpkin-flavored vodka at your Friendsgiving, buck the yoke of the pumpkin carriage and have some originality this season. Picture the typical Thanksgiving table: the annual family reunion is coupled with a buffet of variety, not a uniform spate of orange. These handmade liqueurs, perfect for fall and well-suited to carry you into winter, reinvigorate that same variety in the form of alcohol. Ain’t that what the holidays are all about?
Sorel by Jack from Brooklyn
A Gift from the Caribbean
Keep your nieces and nephews away from this one. Sorrel is a type of hibiscus flower grown primarily in the Caribbean: according to Jack (from Brooklyn — specifically, Red Hook), island children occasionally gather sorrel to pass the time, then bring their bounty home to boil it into a tea with other spices. It’s fun for the whole family — that is until the kids go to bed, at which point the parents spike the tea with rum and have their own fun.
Tasting Notes: Mulling spices are immediately apparent, nutmeg and cinnamon chief among them. The hibiscus makes for a port-like mouthfeel and finish, and distinctive tastes of grape juice and mulled wine.
Rivulet Pecan Liqueur
Pecan Pie in a Glass
RECIPE: Chai Harder
1 1/2 ounce Rivulet liqueur
3/4 ounces blended scotch
1/2 ounce allspice dram
2 ounces chai tea
1 1/2 ounce steamed whole milk
4 dashes angostura aromatic
Recipe by Rivulet.
Replace one fall flavor with another: pecans trump pumpkins in the South. Kentucky-based distillery Rivulet mixes oak barrel-aged brandy with hickory pecans. The result is a silky smooth spirit that’s as good straight as it is soaked into a Belgian waffle (with or without syrup) or poured over vanilla ice cream. If that isn’t appetizing enough on its own, consider the accolades: San Francisco World Spirits Competition Double Gold winner, 90 points from the Ultimate Spirits Challenge in NYC, a silver medal from the China Wine & Spirits Awards in Hong Kong, and 10 others. What’s more, the pecans used in the brewing process are certified Fair Trade — which will definitely please whoever brings the tofurkey this year.
Tasting Notes: Strong maple and pecan on the nose and throughout; vanilla makes it easier on the tongue, allowing it to sit with an easy, molasses mouthfeel, bringing to mind a caramel chew. Brandy reminds drinkers of its presence with a final, subtle kick.
More Pecan Goodness
Mississippi’s Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company makes a brown ale brewed entirely with whole roasted pecans in lieu of grains. The pecan taste is surprisingly subtle; while distinctively nutty, it nonetheless perfectly mimics the malt flavor of a dark ale.
Be Thankful for the Baltic
RECIPE: Vana Tallinn Coffee
1 1/2 ounce Vana Tallinn
1 cup black coffee
Top with whipped cream, shaved chocolate or cinnamon
Recipe by Liviko.
Like Estonia itself, Vanna Tallinn is something of an anomaly. Sitting comfortably next to the Baltic Sea, the country enjoys warm coastal currents from the Atlantic, but it experiences frigid winters not unlike those of its northern Nordic neighbors. Likewise, Vana Tallinn fuses the flavors of an easygoing coastal city (i.e., the Estonian capital from which it takes its name, which translates to “Old Tallinn”) with definite blood-warming alcohol content. Which is to be expected of an 80-proof rum-based liqueur. Not surprisingly, its manufacturer, Liviko, also produces a Vana Tallinn cream, a la Bailey’s.
Tasting Notes: On the nose, an odd mix of caramel chew and motor oil; viscous, it coats the tongue like syrup or cooking oil, but bears strong vanilla and licorice tones — like a more pleasant Jägermeister. Powerful finish, with an impressive balance of sweet and burn.
Art in the Age SAGE Liqueur
Just Like Our Forefathers
RECIPE: Apple Sage Cooler (serves 12-16)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
1 750mL bottle Art in the Age SAGE
4 cups apple cider
4 12-ounce bottles ginger beer
Wafer-thin ginger slices, sage leaves for garnish
Recipe by Casey Barber, inspired by Inspired Bites.
You know the words: parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. All that’s missing from Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’s SAGE spirit is the parsley; it’s replaced with fennel and lavender. Art in the Age aims to revive craft cocktails in the spirit of the early Americas, invoking Thomas Jefferson’s prominent interest in horticulture with SAGE. Remarkably, what you get is more than just herbs de provence mixed with gin; and it’s just about as traditional as turkey.
Tasting Notes: Menthol on the nose; fennel stands out most prominently upon first blush, with a hint of lemon in the finish; neither sweet nor bitter, and dry as dry gets.
Barrow’s Intense Ginger
Precisely What It Sounds Like
Barrow’s Intense Ginger is every bit as straightforward as its name suggests. Like Sorel, its fellow Brooklynite brew, Barrow’s puts its primary ingredient at the forefront — anyone who’s had ginger apple pie or ginger French toast can attest that this is a very good thing. A small operation, Barrow’s is currently the only all-natural handmade ginger liqueur on the U.S. market. Josh Morton, owner and founder of Barrow’s, contends that their fans are out-and-out ginger lovers.
Tasting Notes: Predominantly ginger — of course — but the sting is tempered to focus on the flavor; lemon drop sweetness permeates with a syrupy consistency. A great digestif.
Golden Moon Amer Dit Picon
2 ounces rye whiskey
1 ounce bianco vermouth
1/4 ounce Sweet cherry bitters or syrup
1/4 ounce Amer dit Picon
Recipe by Golden Moon Distillery.
Amer Dit Picon is named for Gaëtan Picon, who served as an apothecary for the French Army in North Africa during the 1830s. He is famed for his original amer (bitters) recipe, which Gold Moon reinterprets here. On its own, it tastes like medicine; but you don’t buy bitters to drink straight. Mixed with a solid curacao (such as Gold Moon’s), or blended into any of your favorite cocktails, it’ll be a step up from the corner liquor store bitters you’ve been using.
Tasting Notes: Nose like the Pacific Northwest; numbing astringency. Predominantly orange peel and grapefruit zest.