Fall or Nothing

Fall or Nothing

As fall begins to feel like fall, I find myself craving warm spices, dark spirits and late harvest fruit flavors. And I know I’m not alone. So I took a tour around our Elm City and beyond to see what local bartenders are mixing up for the season.

The maestros at Olea have created a head-turning Pumpkin Old Fashioned ($16). An old fashioned, given its simple ingredient list, necessitates a deft hand; one dash or fraction of an ounce the wrong way and an old fashioned can become washed out or overly bitter. Good thing co-owner and bar manager Juan Carlos Gonzalez has a knack for intelligent picks and pairings. The punchy, 100-proof Knob Creek 9 bourbon in this cocktail holds its own through the life of the drink, accentuated by the Christmas spice-forward aromatic bitters, black walnut bitters and a homemade pumpkin-clove syrup. I savored this cocktail for a full 45 minutes and it drank well from the first sip to the last.

If Olea’s old fashioned was the equivalent of cool jazz, Anchor Spa’s cocktail All’s Pear in Thyme ($14) was bebop, with cachaça and reposado tequila duking it out over notes of pear, thyme, ginger and citrus. Somehow, in the end, the folks at Anchor managed to balance two of the loudest liquors around.

Over at Oak Haven was a drink to strike fear into the heart of Ichabod Crane: the Pumpkin Head Monster ($15), a light-bodied and sumptuous cold brew cocktail featured on their Sunday brunch menu. Starting with a quirky whiskey liqueur from Hartford’s Up n’ Down called Pumpkin Mash Rock and Bourbon, the recipe also calls for Oak Haven co-owner Albert Greenwood’s own cold brew super concentrate (made from beans sourced by East Haven’s One World Coffee Roasters), plus coffee amaro, sweet vermouth, white cacao liqueur and chocolate bitters. I could taste all of them, but, impressively, the drink wasn’t overly sweet.

Across the street, Tavern on State’s Amorous Semantics ($14) was a stunning riff on a Manhattan, featuring the restaurant’s own barrel-pick rye from New York Distilling Company. The whiskey alone is softer and sweeter than its 100 proof or rye content would suggest, so it’s stiffened with cognac. Nocino, an Italian walnut liqueur, sweetens instead of vermouth, while sherry dries the palate on the finish and bitters pull them all together.

My last stop was Yellow King Brews in Wallingford, a trip worth making given the option to try a four-in-one flight of seasonal espresso martinis ($35). Yellow King is a coffee shop with a liquor license, not a bar that happens to serve coffee, so I had especially high hopes. The Classic was, well, classic, and really showcased the quality of the espresso. The A Little Bitter, A Little Sweet was a little bitter and more than a little sweet, with amaretto, Rumchata, vanilla cold foam and cinnamon cocoa powder. The Salty Bytch was probably my favorite—more salty than sweet but still plenty decadent, with browned notes of toffee and a literal salted caramel rim. The pumpkin cold foam on the Pumpkin’ Pickin’ martini was a delight, and along with the dusted cinnamon over the top, it had me falling, not for the first time, for fall.

Written and photographed by Anna Konya. Image 1 features the Pumpkin Head Monster at Oak Haven. Image 2 features the espresso martini flight at Yellow King Brews.

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