This pumpkin spice old fashioned is a lovely seasonal twist on the classic bourbon cocktail. It's easy to make and with a fantastic touch of warm spice flavor. Perfect for chilly evenings, as a Thanksgiving nightcap or whatever excuse.
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I know for some people, the appearance of cooler weather means it's time to dive into everything pumpkin spice. Personally, I have to admit I am not one of them.
I do love cooking with pumpkin, in everything from sweet treats like pumpkin ice cream and pumpkin empanadas and savory dishes like pumpkin ravioli and pumpkin risotto. And I do love warm spice flavors. But too often things with pumpkin spice flavor, at least that you buy ready-made, I find sickly sweet and that takes over.
That was until I started tried making homemade pumpkin spice syrup which tastes infinitely better than anything ready-made. It's great for a pumpkin spice latte, of course, but also just the thing to help make seasonal twists on classic cocktails.
While some combinations may not work, it's fun to try swapping out the spiced syrup where you would otherwise use a regular simple syrup to give that additional layer or flavor.
What is an old fashioned cocktail?
The old fashioned is often considered the original cocktail as it has spirit, sweetener, water and bitters. You'll find some debate over it's exact origins, and exactly how old it is, as with many cocktails. It has also undergone a few variations over time.
However, what is known is that first "old fashioned" is short for "old fashioned whiskey cocktail" and the first recipe was printed in 1895 in Modern American Drinks.
That recipe wasn't so far off what we generally recognize as the drink today, being mainly whiskey stirred with sugar, ice, bitters and some lemon peel. These days, orange peel is more typical and many use simple syrup since sugar may not always dissolve well. But the essential format is the same.
It's simple, strong and very spirit-forward. Some may find it harder to like as a result, but it's worth trying more than once to see if you might come around. You'll find it's a great cocktail to savor and sip, particularly in colder weather.
While it has gone up and down in popularity over the years, these days it's considered a classic. In fact so much so, the short glass you typically use for one is often called an old fashioned glass.
A seasonal variation
As with so many classic cocktails, you'll find various riffs on the old fashioned theme, especially using different spirits as the base, like tequila or rum. This one sticks with the classic whiskey (bourbon or rye whiskey, as you prefer - which is more classic is a debate for another day), but changes the sweetener.
Even just a small amount of spiced syrup gives you that touch of flavor that adds a lovely complimentary spice to the drink. It's still spirit-forward, but with a slight nuance that builds as you sip.
While it's not an absolute must, I highly recommend you make your own pumpkin spice syrup for this as I think the flavors are much better. It's easy to make with just water, sugar, spices and pumpkin puree.
Once made, you can store it in the fridge to use in this and other cocktails (try my pumpkin spice whiskey sour that's also really good). Plus, it's naturally great in coffee and can even be used over pancakes, waffles and whatever else.
This cocktail is as simple as stirring everything together, but a couple tips to help it come out the best:
- Use a good quality bourbon or rye. While quality is important in most cocktails, that's especially the case here with so little mixed in. It's the main ingredient by a long way so you will taste it.
- Stir the ingredients with ice well to both chill and dilute the drink. You will typically see bartenders do this in a mixing glass then pour into a glass to serve. This is partly so you use smaller ice for mixing then a larger cube to serve (see next point). However, you can also mix in the serving glass. If you do, add extra ice before serving.
- Ideally serve the drink over a large ice cube. A large cube helps keep the drink cooler longer and melts gradually.
- Express the piece of orange peel over the glass before adding it in and serving. This just means twist it a little to get some of the oils out and into your drink. You'll be surprised how much it adds to those first few sips in particular.
- To amp up the spice factor, you could stud the orange peel with one or two cloves and add a cinnamon stick to serve. The cinnamon stick can be either just for decoration or you can use it to stir (but either way, it fits the spice theme!)
This pumpkin spice old fashioned is a lovely seasonal twist on this classic cocktail. It has all the signature whiskey kick, with that touch of warm spice and vanilla flavors mixed into the slight sweetness. It makes a wonderful drink to sip on, whether with guests at a festive party or just because. Cheers, and enjoy!
Try these other autumnal cocktail recipes:
- Calvados sour (a lovely apple-y twist on the classic sour formula)
- Blackberry bourbon smash (the combination of dark berries and bourbon works so well)
- Persimmon apple cider mimosa (a great lighter combination that's both pretty and tasty, too)
- Plus get more cocktail recipes in the archives.
Pumpkin spice old fashioned
- ¼ fl oz pumpkin spice syrup or a little more, to taste
- 2 dashes angostura bitters
- 1 dash orange bitters or an additional dash angostura
- 2 fl oz bourbon or rye whiskey
- 1 strip orange peel
- Place the pumpkin spiced syrup, angostura and orange bitters in a glass or mixing jug and gently stir to mix. Add cracked ice and the bourbon/rye whiskey and stir well to cool the mixture and dilute gently.
- Prepare an old fashioned (rocks) glass with a large cube or ball of ice and strain the whiskey mixture over the top. Twist the piece of orange peel over the glass to let a little of the oils go in, then rub it gently around the edge of the glass before adding to the drink.
- Garnish with a cinnamon stick, if you like and serve (you could also add some cloves to the orange peel strip, if you like).
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