When the temperature dips below 71 degrees, you better believe we’re playing [insert melancholic music here] and wearing that one scarf we own. There’s also no better way to feel fall’s tug than to sit in front of a crackling fire and sip bourbon infused with baking spices. From the cinnamon-speckled “drink as dessert” to subtler smoky whiskeys, here are five seasonal drinks to sip at bars with fireplaces or fire pits. The only rule for this roundup: no pumpkin spice allowed.
The Cornstar at Gracias Madre
From beverage director Maxwell Reis comes an autumnal ode to a singular ingredient — think corn mazes, the last of summer sweet corn and hearty masa with toasted notes. Reductively, this drink is a cold version of champurrado, the slightly cinnamon-y, warm cornmeal Mexican breakfast drink. The base of this cocktail is corn milk made from boiled cobs, which Reis says was inspired by Southeast Asian cuisine. The resulting flavor profile is so delicate, however, that he struggled with preserving it when adding tequila. “This corn flavor is really subtle, so you really need to infuse it into every aspect of this drink to be able to read it,” he says. The solution: Soak organic corn flakes in a bowl of reposado, a medium-aged tequila that has a somewhat caramelized finish. He then strains out the corn flakes and purées house-made corn chips before straining those out of the final drink as well. He adds a Vago Elote, a mezcal that’s made from agave and corn. Finally, the rim is topped with crushed cornflakes and cinnamon. This is an incredibly layered drink that captures the sweetness of fresh corn and the maturity of masa.
8905 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood; (323) 978-2170, graciasmadreweho.com.
Bar 1886 prides itself on playful presentation — menus in VHS cases, cocktails named after cartoons — but these tactics belie the staff's deep reverence for and knowledge of craft spirits. When describing the Lochness Monster cocktail, for example, head bartender Peter Lloyd Jones spends several minutes deconstructing the notes of Alpine pine in the green Chartreuse liqueur before launching into its detailed history (it's been distilled by French monks for the past 100 years). And that's just one ingredient. The dominant character in this cocktail, created by bartender Adam Vaughn, is a 10-year aged Ardbeg Islay Scotch (Ardbeg being the brand, Islay referring to the Scottish isle where the drink originates). It’s intensely smoky because it’s infused with burned peat moss, which is collected by hand, Jones says. To this, egg white, lime juice, green Chartreuse and simple syrup are added, creating a shaken whiskey sour. It’s slightly salty, slightly sweet, slightly aromatic – from the green Chartreuse – and creamy. It’s topped with a lime peel that bobs in the drink, an ode to Nessie herself.
1250 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena; (626) 441-3136, theraymond.com.
The Gold Rush at the Culver Hotel
The Gold Rush, we admit, isn’t necessarily a fall drink, nor is it unique to the Culver Hotel. In fact, it’s been described as “hot toddy’s summer cousin.” But if you’re looking for an approachable, drinkable cocktail without strong smoke or spice, this is it. The autumnal feeling comes from the bourbon, and the garnishes speak to colors of fall. Perhaps the best part of sipping this cocktail, however, is doing it in front of the large fireplace in the center of the Culver’s lush lobby. It starts burning at 4 p.m. daily.
9400 Culver Blvd., Culver City; (310) 558-9400, culverhotel.com.
The Around the Way Girl at Westbound
It looks like a beachside tiki drink, but its inspiration, says bartender Jimmy Hillegas, was actually Thanksgiving candied yams. The yellow color comes from sweet potatoes that are roasted in-house with brown sugar and then puréed. They’re then brightened with orange juice and blended with two rums — Cutwater’s Three Sheets Spiced Rum and Plantation 3 Star. The cocktail is topped with a torched marshmallow and brightened by a sprig of mint. It’s not terribly thick but has just enough body to be satisfying. Somehow it tastes like the lightest, most sippable eggnog. Drink it on Westbound’s back patio, in front of the fire pit — there are only a couple of couches back there, which means it’ll never get too loud.
300 S. Santa Fe Ave., Suite N, Arts District; (213) 262-9291, westbounddtla.com.
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The Danny Kaye at Birds & Bees
From bar manager Bethany Hamm comes perhaps the most delightful drink of the lot, the Danny Kaye. It features a coconut-infused bourbon, which Hamm makes in-house by soaking coconut in bourbon — obviously — and then freezing it and skimming off the fat. The result is a base note of coconut butter that hits at the end of every sip; the perfumed bittersweetness of sherry leads. "Sometimes you order a coconut drink and it smells like sunscreen," Hamm says. To avoid that heavy-handed flavor, she used sherry and Angostura bitters for complexity. The drink is rounded out with vermouth. Best of all, it comes with a house-made Rice Krispies treat that Hamm cuts generously with organic butter, to lessen the tooth-aching sweetness of marshmallow. Toasted coconut plays off the butter and adds crunch while complementing the fresh coconut in the cocktail. "I wanted a dessert drink, but nothing like Bailey's," she says. The idea is to take a bite of dessert and chase it with the bitter cocktail. It works.
8207 S. Broadway, downtown; (213) 537-0510, birdsandbeesla.com.