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Behind the Bar: Autumn Spirits to Distinguish Your Bar Program

By October 1, 2023Connecticut, Top News

Bartender and guest columnist Khalid Williams. Photo by Winter Caplanson.

By Khalid Williams

Buying specific spirits for the time of year or a holiday is the low-hanging fruit of seasonally influenced menus. Subtle changes to your menu can represent the season without reinventing the wheel and will work well through early December. Maybe you already have autumn spirits in your lineup that you’ve been ignoring—it’s worth consideration.

These are five useful ideas when selecting spirits for your fall-into-winter menu, each representing the following five qualities I look for:

1. Value: Not a number, but a proposition of getting the most for our money.

2. Character: Different enough to stand out, recognizable enough to be embraced without hard selling.

3. Mass staff adoption: The majority of your team can understand, use and improvise with the product and speak about it with confidence. If they can’t today, do you have the time and means to empower them to be able to tomorrow?

4. Placement priority: Suppliers have their reasons for giving support, attention and priority to particular spirits, and it’s to your benefit to take a look at those products first. If a brand or product is being pushed, it will be quicker and easier to get promotional items, social media interaction and uniquely curated events. Taking the time to research which brands are being highlighted will go a long way in your reach and exposure. As long as the product meets your standards of quality and integrity, embrace the practice of aligning your menu with your distributors’ prioritized products.

5. Training: This is ongoing, but this is the time of year to fall back on what you do and what you know best. Your seasonal products should be an extension of whatever you are already known for.
Let’s dive into my favorite fall switch-ups.

Dark rum: This is the unsung hero of fall cocktails. When we hear rum, we tend to default to warm weather. With flavors of ripe banana, caramel and coffee, you can absolutely nail the perfect fall vibes. Examples: Coruba, Cruzan Black Strap, Plantation Original Dark. Cocktail ideas: Rum Old Fashioned, Midnight Mai Tai, Maple Rum Rickey.

Applejack: First, many flavor crimes involving apple are committed this time of year, but using American-style apple brandy is an all-around good decision. Used as a base or a float/addition, you simply have so many great options that provide beautiful apple flavor without adding flabby sweetness. Examples: Laird’s Bottled in Bond (more “boozy” than apple, until diluted), Laird’s Blended (apple flavor for days!), Black Dirt. Cocktail ideas: Jack Rose, Apple Jack Rabbit.

Amaro: Still too few of us are reaching for amaro and those who are in the know don’t use it as a base spirit enough. Literally thousands of flavor combinations in mostly secret recipes make up the amaro landscape, but you can depend on them being bittersweet and aromatic with a healthy amount of gentian root flavor. Having an active amaro selection will organically inspire autumn drink ideas. Examples: Averna, Cynar, Nonino, Braulio. Cocktail ideas: Paper Plane, Cynar Buck, Black Manhattan.

Scotch: For mixing, Scotch has been relegated to a couple of ubiquitous “… and soda” pours. These are less than exciting, but the distilling culture has recently turned out exciting offerings in the category that are ripe for that beautiful, brooding yet bright trademark note that a wide array of blenders possess. There are also some single malts that have been engineered to be divine in cocktails, although they’re on the pricier side. I am unfairly impartial to Black Bottle, the peatiest blended Scotch on earth (in my opinion). Examples: Black Grouse, Black Bottle, Glenmorangie X. Cocktail ideas: Penicillin, South by Southwest.

Reposado tequila: This sits in between the wildly universal Blanco and the exclusivity of Añejo, and really needs to see action in your fall-leaning cocktails. The peppery spice of agave is slightly mellowed by oak and can be taken in so many fun directions. Examples: Casa Noble, Milagro, El Jimador. Cocktail ideas: Rosita, Rosemary Paloma, Black Widow.

Need more ideas? You can unlock recipes at in my new industry portal. You know your guests best; however you choose to help expand their taste options, the above list is a start for further exploration.

Khalid Williams is a bar manager, spirits brand representative and program consultant specializing in marketing, engagement and data. His passion is for exploring the “why” behind consumer decisions. He loves Old-world wine, New-world rum and Connecticut beer. Follow him on Instagram @thebarrelage.



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