Pumpkin flavor instantly evokes memories of autumn: vibrant yellow and auburn-colored trees, a slight chill in the air, and the rustle of crisp leaves under your feet. And there are so many delicious ways to enjoy the fruit—yes, it’s a fruit—from pies to breads to soups and even whisky cocktails. “When pumpkin is cooked it releases natural baking spice flavors that wonderfully complement the barrel-aged notes in whisky,” says Billy Caruso, Chicago-based executive chef and beverage director at Rye Deli + Drink. “I like the viscosity and texture that pumpkin brings to a cocktail—it creates a more round and full-bodied mouthfeel.”
There are lots of possibilities for experimentation with pumpkin in a whisky drink. You can make pumpkin syrup, which typically consists of pumpkin puree, sugar, and water, and there are many ways to make it your own. You can use it to infuse whisky, which involves steeping pumpkin in the spirit, or you can simply add pureed pumpkin to your favorite whisky cocktail, which is how Caruso prefers to use it. “But I do have one tip if you’re going to puree the pumpkin yourself,” he says. “Always use a high-powered blender to get the pumpkin to a velvety-smooth texture. Otherwise it will break up when combined with other ingredients and make it look like your cocktail has sea monkeys in it—nobody wants that.”
4 Whiskey and Pumpkin Cocktails to Try
Autumn Harvest: 2 oz. rye whiskey + 1½ tsp. pumpkin pie syrup + 3 dashes Angostura bitters
In a rocks glass stir rye, syrup, and bitters with ice for 15 seconds. Top with more ice and garnish with a star anise pod or cinnamon stick.
Created by Blaze Laroe of the since closed Chikatana in Chicago
Tangy Pumpkin Toddy: 1¼ oz. bourbon + 1¾ oz. Proof Pumpkin Spice syrup + ½ oz. Apologue Saffron liqueur + Hot water
Combine ingredients in a hot toddy glass and top with hot water. Garnish with powdered sugar-coated dehydrated pumpkin flesh pieces or Jelly Belly Pumpkins.
Created by Matt Shores from Daisies in Chicago
Pumpkin Old Fashioned: 1½ oz. bourbon + 2 Tbsp. pumpkin puree + ½ oz. Grand Marnier + 1 oz. maple syrup + 2 dashes bitters
Combine bourbon, Grand Marnier, maple syrup, pumpkin puree, and bitters in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well and strain through a fine mesh strainer into a chilled Old Fashioned glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with a rosemary sprig or orange peel.
From Boxer Hotel’s former Finch restaurant in Boston
Smashing Pumpkins: 2 oz. bourbon + 1 oz. pumpkin puree* + 1 oz. lemon juice + 1 oz. egg white
Dry shake bourbon, lemon juice, and egg white for 20 seconds. Add ice and pumpkin puree, shake for another 20 seconds. Double strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Garnish with 2 dashes Angostura bitters.
*Peel, remove seeds, and dice a sweet pumpkin, roast at 300º until fork tender, about 45 minutes to an hour. While warm, add it to a blender along with water and puree until velvety smooth, adding more water if needed. Let it cool.
Created by Billy Caruso of Rye Deli + Drink in Chicago