When autumn's chill becomes a factor in your food and drink choices, the usual suspects come to mind: stews, roasts, hot toddies, hard apple cider — hearty stuff we've known about since childhood.
But there is nothing so versatile as adult beverages for assuaging one's seasonal needs while allowing the imagination to roam beyond the limits of habit.
Creativity comes into play here, so don't be reluctant to experiment with your garnishes — sprigs of fall thyme, blossoms of those colorful nasturtiums you might have been using to spruce up your summer salads, grated nutmeg — even a "floater" of a lighter-density liquid layered or swirled atop the cocktail as if channeling a Starbucks barista — to act as both an ingredient and a garnish.
For the latter, you are not limited to dense spirits mixtures. If your preference is for beers and ales, you may want to try the Black Pumpkin, a layered drink being recommended by the specialists at Anheuser-Busch.
It combines two brews popular this time of year from both major facilities and craft brewers around the country — Irish stout and pumpkin spice ale. It's Anheuser-Busch's version of the classic Black-and-Tan from England, which is made from a blend of pale ale and a dark beer such as stout or porter, or the Half-and-Half, which uses a pale lager instead of ale.
In the Black Pumpkin, the stout — the thicker of the two liquids — is the base, with the ale very gently poured over it to create an interesting dynamic between the colors and the flavors. The stout should have a roasted, malty flavor and the ale provides a spicy, autumnal component.
The trick to proper creation and presentation is having a very steady hand. I'd suggest practicing with small glasses until you get the hang of it.
Classic cocktails have to some extent taken a backseat to fad concoctions. But some are rebounding (the Bourbon Manhattan, the Sidecar, the Gimlet, the Rusty Nail) and seem to be ordered more as the weather cools.
For example, I was enjoying a comforting Belvedere martini at a suburban restaurant the other evening when Tommy Doyle — 43 years and counting as a bartender par excellence — picked up his muddler and began working up a cocktail that looked vaguely familiar.
Although he was making it in a sturdy wine goblet instead of the standard Old Fashioned tumbler, it was indeed an Old Fashioned, the stalwart drink of the 1930s that gave the glass its name.
The Old Fashioned was a regional Bourbon cocktail created in the 1880s by a bartender at the Pendennis Club, a gentlemen's club in Louisville, Ky. Club member James E. Pepper, whose Kentucky family distillery today is known as Woodford Reserve, is said to have introduced the drink to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel bar in New York. It became so popular it appeared in the "Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book" in 1931.
Like many drinks, the Old Fashioned can have a few variables — Doyle's customer preferred Scotch to rye, but the classic recipe goes like this:
2 oz. blended whiskey
1 sugar cube
1 dash bitters
1 slice lemon
1 slice orange
1 maraschino cherry
Combine the sugar cube, bitters, and a teaspoon of water in a cocktail tumbler. Muddle well, add whiskey, and stir (or shake vigorously if preferred). Add a twist of lemon peel and ice cubes. Add slices of orange and lemon and top with the cherry. Serve with a swizzle stick.
(William M. Dowd covers the world of adult beverages at billdowd.com)
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