I recently realized that I drink far more cocktails during the autumn and winter months and tend to stick to sparkling wine, beer, and red wine during hotter months. Haven't quite figured out why, but I promise I'll look into it. Perhaps one too many family gatherings could make a person sprint to the local bar for a stiff drink - who knows? The point is, in light of this recent discovery, I've been playing around with some ways to autumn-ize some of the most classic cocktails.
Short note: Making cocktails is no different than cooking, really. Choose high-quality, natural-ish ingredients to elevate something simple into something extraordinary!
Gin & Tonic
Up first, the mighty Gin & Tonic. I've had a troubled relationship with this drink, but we've worked out our differences and I'm now Team G&T. Honestly, the first time I ever had one that I loved was at Jose Andres' Jaleo in Washington, D.C. It had a depth and brightness that was so lacking in every other one I'd ever tried. It converted me.
About the gin: I prefer the London Dry gin style since it tends to be sort of mellow and not so abrasive. My #1 choice is Plymouth, but I'll use Beefeater if I can't find it. Plymouth also makes an excellent sloe gin. I also LOVE Leopold's gin from Colorado, which is becoming a bit easier to find these days, so see if you can.
About the tonic: I truly believe the secret to a good Gin & Tonic is the tonic. I can't deal with the syrupy, unnatural taste of Schweppes tonic water. Opt for something with less sugar - or, at least, real sugar. Try Q or Fever-Tree.
To add a holiday kick to a traditional Gin & Tonic, I simply add a splash of sloe gin and a cinnamon stick as a stirrer - that's it! Here's the recipe:
The Old-Fashioned is a deceptively simple concoction: sugar, bitters, whiskey, twist. Like so many simple things, it's disastrous when not done well and extraordinarily satisfying when a mustachioed mixologist takes care to make it properly. I have to be honest, I made my own apple bitters (I call them Yuletide bitters, appropriately enough) for use in this cocktail, but there are plenty of fancy bitters out there these days. Find anything in the way of apple, cinnamon, maple, or warmly spiced (think baking spices and gingerbread) bitters and you'll be all set.
Instead of using bourbon entirely, I introduce Calvados (apple brandy) to add a bit of autumn warmth to a traditional Manhattan. I was surprised that it didn't take a whole lot of fuss to turn this into a great winter drink - it may already be one on its own!
I was recently asked to test some recipes for mulled wine for the holidays. I made a number of versions, both red and white, and discovered that my favorite holiday mulled wine was very similar to my favorite sangria recipe, except that it's a bit sweeter and is served piping hot. I did also enjoy it the next day, on ice, so it can go both ways.