Cocktail of the Month: Pumpkin Pisco Punch

Thanksgiving week marks the tail end of autumn and the last call for fall flavors before the busy December holiday daze. One flavor that many will miss is pumpkin spice, with which America has become obsessed — thanks to a certain Seattle-based coffee chain.

The late-summer launch is marked by a social-media frenzy, with speculation on the release date followed by people rushing to Starbucks and ordering the beverage en masse.

Introduced nationally in 2003 (Washington was lucky to be one of the test markets in 2002), the pumpkin spice latte sparked a trend that now reaches beyond java. Other coffee shops scrambled to copy Starbucks’ success. One competitor, Dunkin’ Donuts, added not only pumpkin coffees but doughnuts, muffins and cream-cheese spread. Pumpkin spice has made its way into American staples such as Cheerios, Oreos, Peeps, Hostess CupCakes and Quaker Oats.

So, is what’s good for the joe, good for the booze? Brewing beer with pumpkin dates back to 1771. The craft-beer explosion has produced some truly delectable brews, such as Schlafly’s, Smuttynose and Weyerbacher pumpkin ales. Many of these, however, are sold out by Halloween.

On the spirits side, Baileys and Kahlua cordials and Hiram Walker and Bols schnapps all have pumpkin spice varieties. Pinnacle vodka makes a pumpkin pie flavor. The internet is filled with drink recipes and D.C. mixologists are incorporating pumpkin and autumn spices into their cocktails.

Why is pumpkin so popular these days? As with many fads, pumpkin spice hits emotional triggers that have little to do with flavor alone, according to Fortune magazine. People nostalgically associate the flavors of pumpkin and pumpkin pie with celebrating Thanksgiving and spending time with family. These flavors also conjure up memories from our youth of trick-or-treating and jumping into leaf piles.

If you’re determined to get your pumpkin spice fix, my recommendation would be to imbibe one of the creations available in D.C.’s booming cocktail scene. For one thing, these tipples are going to be forged from real pumpkin and spices like ginger, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Aside from beer, most of the commercially produced products are likely made from flavoring agents and chemicals that trick your brain into thinking you’re consuming the real thing. Second, why have a latte when you can have liquor?

At City Tap House Dupont, pumpkin- and maple-infused vodka is used to make the autumnal Last Name Crane. In addition, this cocktail includes ginger liqueur, black-walnut bitters and Becherovka, a type of herbal bitters from the Czech Republic with a gingery and cinnamony flavor. In the Jefferson, near Scott Circle, Foursquare users have raved about the pumpkin margaritas at Quill, the hotel’s upscale lounge.

HalfSmoke, located in Shaw, has transformed its outdoor patio into an urban pumpkin patch with 300 pumpkins, 40 gourds, 125 corn stalks and straw bales. Among the seasonal drinks offered here is a pumpkin spice martini.

Looking for something a little (pumpkin) meatier? The Hamilton’s Pumpkin Pisco Punch is forged from pumpkin puree and gets its spiciness from lemon, vanilla, nutmeg and fresh-pressed ginger juice. The pisco imparts a sweetness with hints of grape and another fall favorite, apple.

“The Pumpkin Pisco Punch brings together two great flavors — one of ripe harvested pumpkins and two of the delicate floral notes of the pisco. This drink is bright, flavorful and refreshing all in one,” says Samantha Withall, beverage manager at the Hamilton.

The other appeal of pumpkin spice is the allure of getting something that’s only available for a limited time (not to mention the fear of missing out). This relates to another American habit, conspicuous consumption. What to do when you can’t get your fix anymore? Either wait until next year or hop on the next seasonal trend. Candy-cane martinis or hot buttered rum, anyone?

Pumpkin Pisco Punch
  • 2 oz. Pisco Porton Acholado
  • 2 oz. pumpkin mix (see below)
  • .25 oz. fresh-pressed ginger juice

Pumpkin Mix

  • 1 oz. pumpkin puree
  • .5 oz. simple syrup
  • .5 oz. lemon juice
  • small pinch of vanilla bean
  • small pinch of nutmeg

Pour all ingredients into a shaker and shake. Then pour into a rocks glass. Garnish with a pinch of nutmeg.

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