By Rob LeDonne
Poor November. It’s always been a forgotten month, sandwiched in between the orange glow of Halloween and the hype of the coming holidays. Even Thanksgiving, November’s main reason to celebrate, has been brushed aside in recent years as simply the beginning of the Christmas season, with more and more stores choosing to stay open on Turkey Day. For all of November’s shortcomings, there is one bright highlight. As the weather begins its march to gloominess and the days become shorter, a simple fact reigns true: November is probably the best month to have a drink. What better way to shake off the fading warmth, the stress before the holidays, and the time change-induced depression with a few stiff ones? Luckily, there are a bevy of notable November beverage offerings available this time of year, from craft brewers who know how to capture the month’s positive spirit, to your local watering hole with its unique cocktails of their own.
If there’s one person that understands the art of a great fall drink better than anyone else, it’s Ross Brockman. As the co-founder of Downeast Cider, his entire career and subsequent success has centered around one of late autumn’s most quintessential drinks: cider. “In college, we liked apple cider as well as drinking beer,” says Brockman from the Downeast’s headquarters in Boston, Massachusetts Charlestown neighborhood. “We realized we could do both of those things professionally, so we did. And for the last five years, we have.” Since its humble founding in 2011, Brockman and his company has exploited America’s love for hard cider by crafting a variety of flavors, ranging from their standard Original Blend to Maple. However, their Pumpkin Blend Cider, is practically autumn in a can. “Pumpkin is about as obvious a flavor imaginable for a New England Cider Company,” says Brockman. “It wasn’t so much about having an idea as it was resisting the idea until we got it right. And I think we did get it right.” Downeast’s Pumpkin recipe is achieved by adding a pumpkin mash to their typical apple mash when the fruits are pressed. “Normally our apples are shredded into bags and pressed into juice with a large hydraulic press,” says Brockman. Adding the pumpkin makes it so the juice that’s pressed out is a pure combination of both pumpkin and apple. “In addition, we also brew a Chai Blend that was developed by Tyler (Mosher, Downeast’s co-founder) and a local tea company. The Chai is then blended with the pumpkin and apple mash, and we’re off and running.” And why does Brockman think his ciders, including the Pumpkin variation, are such a hit? “I think it’s for the same reason people like anything seasonal. It embraces flavors, smells, and memories that we associate with good times in our past. It’s new, it’s limited, and it’s part of the culture of being from New England.”
Take a short jaunt down the eastern coast of the US from New England to Delaware and you’ll find another brewery making their own mark on the autumnal libations scene. Dogfish Head Brewery, founded by Sam Calagione in the coastal community of Lewes, has been churning out its much-lauded Punkin Ale since it’s the company’s birth in 1995. “First, when you think of pumpkin beer, you have to think of our colonial ancestors for making it part of our beer landscape,” explains Calagione, citing the fact that pumpkin beer first enjoyed popularity during our nation’s founding. “Since beer’s original ingredient barley wasn’t grown here, they had to find other sources so they used gourds instead.” With that in mind, Calagione created his Punkin Ale. (It earned its peculiar-spelling name thanks to the fact he frequently listened to punk music while first creating it.) “The reason that this particular brew continues to do well is because it’s made with all natural ingredients. Sure you can buy artificial pumpkin flavor, but we use real pumpkin, real brown sugar, and real cinnamon. It’s just all real and you can taste it.” Perhaps that’s why the seasonal brew has turned into one of Dogfish Head’s most popular offerings. “It’s certainly our best selling seasonal beer and the overall volume of its sales makes it a top five beer for all of Dogfish Head,” he explains of brew, which won the company its very first award two decades ago. “I think there are certain signifiers that the fall season has arrived, like the smell of flowers in the spring or the smell of Christmas trees in the winter. The taste and smell of pumpkins are like that for fall. It’s very sensory driven.”
Just as enjoyable as cracking open a can of fall libation in your own home is venturing out into the dreary weather to grab one at a cozy neighborhood bar. And if you happen to find yourself in New York City, there’s no better choice than visiting Westville Hudson, in the city’s chic Hudson Square neighborhood. Frequented by thirsty locals and famous visitors (both Zac Efron and Nick Jonas recently stopped in), Westville has earned a reputation as one of the best city stops for freshly prepared healthy eats and meticulously prepared drinks. Behind the bar most nights is Brenda Riepenhoff, an Ohio native who now resides in the Big Apple and still has memories of fall on the native farm she grew up on. “Fall is just a big long anticipation till when it’s going to snow,” Riepenhoff says with a laugh. “We change the cocktail menu here at Westville quarterly, so we always have seasonal cocktails available.” Along with manning the Westville Bar, Riepenhoff is constantly experimenting with new cocktails, tweaking the ingredients until they blend together and result in beverage bliss- and of course, she has a fall-themed drink up her sleeve. “I was thinking about what ingredients could work with the season. Of course there’s apples or pumpkin, but I didn’t want to be too cliche.” What she wound up creating is dubbed Novemberry Smash and features Amaretto (“nutty and sweet”), and muddle blackberries (“a nice, dark fall berry that’s sour.”) That’s all topped off with brandy, because according to Riepenhoff, “it’s a really good base for all of the other flavors.” And why does Riepenhoff think autumn is an ideal season to kick one back? “In all honesty, anytime is a good time to have a good cocktail.” We couldn’t agree more.
1 plum (2 slices)
1.5 oz Hennessy
1 oz Disaronno Amaretto
.5 oz lemon
Muddle the blackberries and one slice plum in a shaker. Add Hennessey, Amaretto, and lemon. Shake and strain over a glass filled with ice. Garnish with the other slice of plum, serve and enjoy!