Friday Night Cocktail: Autumn Leaves, with variations

Despite my abiding love for apples, especially at this time of year, I rarely seem to use apple brandy in cocktails. Applejack is a beloved ingredient among American mixologists, but it’s unavailable here in Ontario. What apple brandy there is – predominantly Calvados – is pretty pricy for a base spirit, so I think hard before doling it out in 2-ounce pours. But when casting about for a seasonal drink recently, I happened across the “Autumn Leaves” in my notes, which uses apple brandy with restraint, but to great effect.

There’s a wide variety of cocktails out there with names based on autumn leaf imagery, like the “Falling Leaves” and “Fallen Leaves.” (Don’t confuse the two!) For that matter, I was served an impeccable version of the “Autumn Leaves,” at Toronto’s Acadia restaurant under the moniker “Indian Summer.” The “Autumn Leaves” in question comes from Jeffrey Morgenthaler, who describes its origins as a pretty straightforward case of cocktail templating. It’s pretty hard to go wrong with equal parts of two complementary base spirits plus an aromatized wine, a quarter ounce of intensely aromatic liqueur, and a dash or two of bitters (or, in this case, tincture).

I repeated the substitutions from the Acadia recipe, using bourbon in place of the original American rye and Calvados in place of the applejack, and added a twist of my own: lacking Strega (and not wanting to shell out for a bottle just to use a quarter ounce), I grabbed the Licor 43, whose flavour is predominantly vanilla. You could just as easily use Benedictine, yellow Chartreuse, or probably even Jägermeister, to good effect.

The cinnamon tincture for this recipe takes a couple of weeks to make; if you start now, you can enjoy this cocktail while it’s still in season. Or, you could just substitute a dash of Fee Brother’s Old Fashion Bitters, which taste predominantly of cinnamon already.

How to make cinnamon tincture

  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Vodka or grain neutral spirits (preferably 50% or greater alcohol by volume)

Fill a spice jar with cinnamon sticks, add vodka to cover, and let stand for two weeks. Drain and transfer to a dropper bottle.

How to make an Autumn Leaves cocktail

  • 3/4 oz. American straight rye whiskey, such as Rittenhouse (or substitute Bourbon)
  • 3/4 oz. applejack or apple brandy
  • 3/4 oz. sweet vermouth
  • 1/4 oz. Strega (or substitute another herbal liqueur)
  • 2 drops cinnamon tincture

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass, add ice, stir for a slow count of 20, then strain over fresh ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with an orange twist and a cinnamon stick.

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