There's really only one word for fall in Florida: funny. The palm trees stay green, temperatures hover in the mid-80s, and pumpkins are sold from tents instead of patches. Sure, coffee shops make pumpkin lattes, drugstores amplify their candy offerings and retailers sell sweaters, but we're still sweating at the beach. That is, until the last couple of weeks. That cool breeze in the morning and evening air has changed the season from funny to real. It also conjures visions and flavors of apples, pumpkins, and cinnamon for our plates and, especially, our glasses. For when it comes to warming our booze-loving souls, November is a perfect month for the flavors of fall.
Beyond the pumpkinization of all fall drinks, spiked apple ciders and hot toddies probably come to mind. Manhattans and old fashioneds are good classics for this time of year, too. All are mighty fine drinks, but I'm thinking creatively this season, so I convinced a couple of bartender friends to create a cocktail fit for the Florida fall.
Brian Cooper bartends at Handsome Harry's on Third Street South, and when I asked him to create a fall cocktail, the first thing he grabbed was Fireball cinnamon whiskey. For the uninitiated, a sip of Fireball is like swallowing a few sticks of chewed Big Red gum. It is a surprisingly smooth spirit.
For Cooper, it's an essential ingredient to bringing the spice notes of fall into the glass.
"All (of) my drinks have Fireball," Cooper said as he concocted a couple of tasty tipples.
The first reminded me of a sweet and spicy take on an old fashioned. If you like bourbon, you'll enjoy the "Coop Fashioned," with Fireball, Woodford Reserve bourbon, amaretto, and a splash of soda water. Another favorite, the "Butterball," mixes Fireball with Bailey's Irish cream and butterscotch schnapps. It's reminiscent of a fall dessert — cool hitting the lips but warming from within.
Grant Reid manages the bar at Bistro 821 on Fifth Avenue South, and his first thought went to fruit. He first mixed up the bar's signature "Naples Sunset" — pineapple vodka, orange juice, and cranberry juice — but our favorite concoction is his German chocolate martini. The mix of Frangelico hazelnut liqueur, Bailey's Irish cream and coconut-and-chocolate-flavored vodkas looks like your kid's chocolate milk, tastes like Nutella, and makes you want to put on slippers and sit by the fire.
That's the best part about fall — whether we are in Florida or up North, we start looking for things to warm us up a little.
Fall cocktails should be packed with flavor, spice and fruits. Whatever you fancy this fall, ask Cooper, Reid or your favorite bartender to create something seasonal.
COCKTAIL OF THE MONTH
In the spirit of bartender’s choice drinks this month, I decided to create a signature drink of my own, and mostly experimented with bourbon and fruit. My favorite is a simple take on the bourbon smash.
Ashley’s Bourbon Smash
2 ounces bourbon (Bulleit, Buffalo Trace, Maker’s Mark)
3 sprigs of mint
1 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 ounce cranberry juice
2 sprigs mint for garnish
1 Muddle the mint and lemon juice in the bottom of a shaker glass. Add the bourbon and cranberry juice, and shake well with ice.
2 Strain into a rocks glass with ice. Serve with the remaining mint sprigs as garnish.
3 Walk outside, enjoy the cool breeze, and sip. Repeat as desired.
Ashley Stites tends bar at the Avenue Wine Cafe in Naples and enjoys scouting out the best libations available in Southwest Florida.