Ahh, September in Baton Rouge. It means football season is back, with all the debauchery and celebration that brings. It means latching onto every cool breeze, hoping it means summer’s oppressive heat is finally over. And, soon enough, it means pulling on sweaters and long pants and grumbling that it’s too darn cold and whatever happened to the summer, anyway?
Luckily, it’s easier to warm up than it is to cool down, and Baton Rouge’s bartenders and baristas are here to insulate you against the cold with cocktails and hot drinks made especially for fall. These drinks can remind you of all the best things about the autumn — from pumpkin pie to piles of dead leaves to the cool crisp air in your lungs — even though, let’s be real, we’ll be lucky if it gets below 70 degrees.
Where summer drinks go for cool, crisp and fruity tastes, cooling weather in the autumn means people tend to look for warmth and depth in their cocktails, said B.J. Greenwood, a bartender at The Radio Bar. In part, that means transitioning from clear liquors like gin or silver tequila to brown liquors like whiskey or dark rum. In addition to the autumnal colors brown liquor adds to a drink, the flavors reflect the changing weather. Whiskey brings sweetness, spice and smokiness in varying levels while dark rum has a full, syrupy flavor.
By supplementing with other ingredients and techniques, bartenders can make fall flavors pop. Greenwood said The Radio Bar is focusing on adding Italian amaros — bittersweet herbal liqueurs like vermouth or fernet — to add an extra dimension to its fall menu.
At The Cove, cocktail bar manager Joey Goar adds some theatricality to his specialty drink To Be Drunk At Dusk with a wood smoker. Conceived as part of a literary-themed bartending competition, the drink pays homage to Charles Dickens’ ghostly short story collection, “To Be Read At Dusk” with a smoky halo. It’s not just a matter of looking great, either — Goar said he tried burning several types of wood chips in the process of crafting the drink before landing on a flavor profile he liked.
Lemon juice and Angostura bitters brighten up this rye whiskey-based cocktail for a lively, spicy, well-balanced drink. Benedictine, a Belgian liqueur also used in New Orleans favorite the Vieux Carré, adds a hint of herbal sweetness.
When ginger liqueur is the most accessible ingredient in the cocktail, you can bet you’re in for a ride. The Ginger Dram combines ginger spice with peaty scotch whisky, the medicinal tasting amaro fernet and bitters for a cocktail that could charitably be called “austere.” This one should warm you to your bones.
A twist on a classic Old Fashioned, this cocktail follows the philosophy that anything that tastes good will taste better after you leave it in a barrel for a few months. The Cove combines high-proof whiskey and dark Demerara sugar with bourbon-barrel-aged aromatic bitters and gin-barrel-aged orange bitters for an Old Fashioned with greater depth of flavor.
While the smoke-infusing process will get everyone at the bar talking about (and smelling) your drink, the real reward is in the glass. The natural smoky flavor of the scotch base is highlighted, but over the course of a glass, the sweet and spicy flavors of falernum and pimento dram reveal themselves. It feels like smoking a pipe in a wood-paneled room full of leather-bound books.
Photos by Kristine Stone.