[A]utumn is my favorite season. It excites and inspires me, and it makes me think serious thoughts. I’ve never felt “Christmas cheer,” but I imagine that it’s similar to the feeling I experience when my boots crunch dead leaves while walking to work on a crisp, overcast autumn morning. I don’t express my “cheer” by baking season-appropriate desserts or cutting up gourds—I turn the feelings into drinks. At home Old Fashioned, Martinez, and Manhattan variations effortlessly match the mood. At the café pumpkin, squash, and baking spices seem like obvious choices to add fall flavors to coffee and tea drinks. But as familiar and seasonal as these flavors are, they’re too obvious.
Last year at the Rose Establishment I just went with it: I flash-brewed coffee with actual roasted and spiced pumpkin, then infused it with nitrogen and served it on draft. I topped it with loosely whipped cream spiked with Scrappy’s cardamom bitters. Our customers and staff loved it, but this year I wanted to steer clear of pumpkin spice territory altogether. I let my autumn moods—instead of ingredients—guide my drink development. I set out to make an Invigorating Drink, a Serious Drink, and a Cozy Drink.
I wanted the Invigorating Drink to be the kind of beverage you would bring in a thermos on a brisk stroll down a tree-lined street—my archetypal autumn experience. Strong tea and mulled wine came to mind, so I thought I’d combine those flavors. I put ten grams each of green cardamom pods, black peppercorns, and star anise in a saucepan and crushed them with a muddler. I then added ten grams of cloves and three cinnamon sticks, before toasting the spices to release their aromas. I poured in two cups cabernet sauvignon and simmered the spices in the wine for thirty minutes to reduce and cook off the alcohol. I then added half a cup turbinado sugar, let the mixture cool, and strained the syrup with cheesecloth. I brewed ten ounces of Art of Tea’s Immortal Nectar pu-erh tea and mixed it with one ounce mulled wine syrup. The drink was bright, spicy, and uplifting—the Invigorating Drink I had in mind.
The Serious Drink was a struggle by comparison. I wanted the drink to embody the experience of reading at night by candlelight, in a cabin in a decaying forest, as the November wind howls past the drafty windowpanes (OK, I had just finished reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and I wanted to keep the feeling alive.) I knew the drink’s base needed to be black coffee and smoked black tea. I wanted to use sage and rosemary to bring a forest flavor to the drink, but my efforts to make a syrup or tincture lacked the herbal intensity and that special something I was looking for. I was lamenting over this roadblock to Adrianna Pachelli, director of education at Salt Lake’s Caputo’s Market, while she was enjoying her daily cup at the Rose. She suggested I try out the Addition sage and rosemary tinctures, which Caputo’s carried.
She dashed to Caputo’s and brought me the tinctures, along with what ended up being that special something: bitter and woodsy chestnut flower honey. I drizzled 6 grams chestnut flower honey in a cappuccino-size cup and added one ounce brewed lapsang souchong from Metropolitan Tea. In went fifteen drops each of sage and rosemary Addition tinctures, then I filled the cup with five ounces batch-brewed Four Barrel Guatemala El Bosque coffee. After one sip, I was transported to a November night in that imaginary cabin. This creation was deep, dark, mysterious, brooding, and complex—a very Serious Drink.
After all this seriousness (and caffeine), a Cozy Drink was a necessary wrap-up to my beverage development session. I thought the drink should feel like a lazy autumn afternoon: lounging on the sofa with a blanket while watching Hitchcock movies. A tea latte would be a fitting format, so I picked SerendipiTea’s honeybush tisane for its comforting and caffeine-free nature. Before brewing anything, though, I made a spiced maple syrup. I put 10 grams black peppercorns in a saucepan and cracked them with a muddler, then threw in three dried bay leaves. I simmered the spices in one cup maple syrup and one cup water for fifteen minutes, then let the syrup cool before straining it through cheesecloth. I combined half-ounce spiced maple syrup, five ounces hot, double-strength brewed honeybush, four dashes of Bitters Lab apple ginger bitters, and five ounces steamed milk. I grated some nutmeg on top to complete this definitely Cozy Drink.
I made this trio of drinks under the pretense of expressing my seasonal moods, but by playing around with the vast amount of commercially available bitters, tinctures, and specialty ingredients, you can easily make autumnal drinks that are both deceptively simple and infinitely complex. Dashing some Workhorse Rye Pumpkin bitters into a mocha makes it instantly taste like fall, and their Salted Cacao and Flowers & Cacao bitters add savory, floral, and mysterious flavors to a variety of drinks. The Addition tinctures also come in clove and anise versions, and the Bitters Lab apple ginger bitters can add an autumn apple pie flavor to anything. Among Scrappy’s comprehensive lineup of bitters flavors, their cardamom is perfect for this season.
Whether you let your moods or your ingredients dictate your drink creation, this transitory time calls for drinks that inspire, challenge, and comfort—or more simply, drinks that invoke the flavors of fall.
—Cody Kirkland is the manager of Salt Lake City’s the Rose Establishment.