Like wrapping yourself in a blanket, bourbon has a way of warming you to the core as the nights cool down. The taste of the Kentucky-made whiskeys varies widely, but a hallmark of bourbon is the flavor imparted by charred barrels: vanilla, maple, caramel and smoke. That makes bourbon the perfect foil for other fall-evoking ingredients, like apples and cinnamon.
“Bourbon is a gentler, softer whiskey,” says Ralena Young, bar director for Eyes Wide Shut Hospitality Group, which includes Whiskey Inferno in Savage. That corn-based spirit is naturally sweeter than “spicy, aggressive” rye or other whiskeys. She infuses it with Minnesota SweeTango apples to further mellow the spirit.
At the St. Paul Grill, try the Manhattan infused with a cardamom syrup. Drinkers should take their time with this classic. “It’s a sipping cocktail,” says corporate beverage director Justin Spano. “You can sit around a bonfire and slowly enjoy one.”
While the most popular cocktail at downtown Minneapolis’ Butcher and the Boar is the traditional Old-Fashioned, bar manager Jacob Rains plays to different bourbons’ strengths. An especially smoky single malt doesn’t sell well as a sipper, but infused with fruit and spices, it turns into banana bread in a glass.
Even in autumn, he’s not afraid to get tropical, making a tiki drink that marries pineapple and lime with a Chinese five-spice mix. The flavors of the bourbon, however, root the drink firmly in fall. “The color, the heat,” says Rains. “For me, it’s just warming your soul.”
1. The Manhattan Experience
St. Paul Grill, stpaulgrill.com
The storied whiskey bar puts an autumnal spin on the classic Manhattan by adding the orange liqueur Cointreau and cardamom simple syrup to its single-barrel selection of Elijah Craig. Jamaican bitters give it a dash of spice.
2. Fallen Apple Punch
Whiskey Inferno, whiskeyinferno.com
It takes bar director Ralena Young three days to craft the ingredients for this punch, which gets its “velvety” texture from clarified milk. Served with a cinnamon stick and a dried apple slice, the cocktail, made with single-barrel Old Forester, is orchard chic.
3. Kentucky Punch
Butcher & the Boar, butcherandtheboar.com
Syrup infused with Szechuan peppercorn, cinnamon, star anise, fennel and clove sends this pineapple-lime elixir into autumn, along with Knob Creek rye and Maker’s Mark from a private select barrel.