Eclectic fall flavors at Austin bars take you beyond pumpkin

Now that “PSL” is an acceptable abbreviation for the pumpkin spice latte, Starbucks’ ubiquitous fall drink, it’s time to shift our focus away from the beloved pumpkin.

I’m not saying forget it entirely. After all, carving jack o’ lanterns for Halloween and finding room in our stomachs for pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving are two crucial traditions for the holidays. But in between, let’s give pumpkin-flavored things a rest, PSLs included.

The bartenders in this town have already gotten creative with other fall flavors in cocktails: more traditional ones like fig, apple and cranberry and more eclectic ones like tea, carrot and root beer. They’re each being mixed into big, boozy drinks that get us in the mood for the few days of fall temperatures we’ll have before the arrival of wintertime inspires new cravings within us.

Getting figgy with it

The fig — sweet as candy but rich with vitamins and minerals — is a seasonal treat this time of year that a couple of local bartenders have highlighted on their menus.

At Jack Allen’s Kitchen, it’s a striking garnish for the Round Rock Bee Keeper, a booze-forward cocktail made with San Antonio’s Rebecca Creek Whiskey, honey-fig syrup, baked apple bitters and Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur. Although its ingredients suggest the Bee Keeper would be cloying — honey is a more nuanced substitute for sugar, while figs are among the sweetest of fruits — it’s actually well-balanced by the brash kick of the whiskey and thus a delight to sip with dinner.

“Figs, apple bitters and whiskey all really remind me of fall,” Jack Allen’s bar manager David Toby says. “It all comes together for a nice warming cocktail.”

On the other side of town, Jacoby’s bar manager Alana Zanello has also incorporated fig into one of the fall drinks currently on the menu: the East-Sidecar with brandy, Cointreau, dried fig syrup and a sugar rim. It’s a disarming autumnal twist on the classic Prohibition-era cocktail the Sidecar, with the fig in place of lemon juice, that Zanello included from last year’s menu. “We brought back three of our cocktails because they were so popular,” she says.

Other seasonal fruits and vegetables you’ll find in drinks right now include apples — most commonly in hard ciders — as well as cranberries. At North Loop’s Drink.Well, Argus Cidery’s Ginger Perry cider offers the effervescent last word to the Stone Fence, a sunset-colored mix of Cutty Sark Prohibition Scotch, Amaro di Angostura, cinnamon bark, black pepper and fresh lemon.

And in Punch Bowl Social’s Thanksgiving-focused punch Plymouth Rocked, a spiced cranberry syrup provides a sweet balance to the booziness of Old Forester bourbon and the herbal notes of white tea. It’s available through the rest of November.

Fall’s funky side

Two of the best beverages for warming us up when the temperatures drop — tea and coffee — have increasingly become accents to spirits like gin and whiskey in cocktails. Tea, especially, has found its place behind the bar as a floral or herbal counterpoint to the spirits, providing harmony to the overall drink.

That’s the case in cocktails like Drink.Well’s Tibetan Crush, featuring Mount Gay Black Barrel Rum, smoked black tea, Pimm’s, Bitterman’s mole bitters and fresh lime. Served in a tall tiki glass with an aromatic slice of orange, it’s an unexpected drink that might seem more suited for summer — except that the notes of allspice and vanilla in the rum blend with the smoky herbal essence of the tea to produce something best fitted for Texas’ version of fall.

Try tea’s calming influence in the Four Seasons’ refreshing London Fog, with tea-infused gin, lemon juice, honey water and soda water, or in Porter Ale House & Gastropub’s nutty Port of Manhattan, with Earl Grey-infused bourbon, 10-year tawny port, black walnut bitters and Peychaud’s bitters.

Or, if you have more of a hankering for coffee’s bittersweet soul, sip on the Clive at the newly opened Lustre Pearl East. The Clive is a big boy, containing Bulleit Rye; cold brew coffee; and chocolate, orange and Angostura bitters, and will probably give just the sweet jump-start to your evening you might need after a long day’s work.

Other off-beat options include ingredients like carrot and root beer, two highlights among Whisler’s always top-notch cocktail menu. The Milkman’s Kid, with cognac, Art in the Age Root liqueur, milk, honey and vanilla, has only a hint of booze at the back end; otherwise, you’ll think you’re drinking a spice-filled soda with milk’s consistency.

“The Art in the Age is basically 80 proof root beer,” Whisler’s general manager Matt Ross says. “It’s amazing and dangerous.”

Then there’s Down the Rabbit Hole: vodka, velvet falernum, carrot juice and orange bitters. Ross says the bartenders at the East Austin bar use carrot juice — rather than turn it into a syrup, the usual practice — because the syrup wasn’t strong enough to bring out the “snappy crispness and vegetable sweetness” of carrot.

Even South Lamar dive bar the Golden Goose isn’t afraid to get eclectic with its cocktail offerings: the Disiac, with Hendrick’s Gin, fresh beet juice, Cointreau, lime juice and soda is a striking bright-pink tribute to beet’s earthy flavor.

Of course, sometimes all we want this season is something with pumpkin. To that end, try the Fall Fashioned at Jacoby’s with Bulleit Rye, Great Lakes Pumpkin Spirit, mulling spice syrup and bitters. The pumpkin liqueur at the heart of this cocktail is distilled from a lager, Zanello says, and then aged in oak barrels.

“The pumpkin really makes that drink,” she says.

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