Sweater Weather Drinking—Bring Out the Good Ol' Bourbon and Rye
Fall sits between Maine’s two great seasons, an all-too-brief pause for reflection and collecting our wits after the guests leave. We pray that the spirit of autumn will extend the too-short arm of summer into the certain onslaught that is winter. Our prayers are often answered with a Maine Indian Summer, the stuff of legend when we are so blessed. And when the forest’s foliage explodes into the brilliant golds, reds, and russets that mirror the hues of the hearth, we change our focus from lakes and bays and tire swings and back to the work of buttressing our homes and filling the larder against the cold months to come.
We become more ant and less grasshopper.
Fall’s harvest is summer’s promise fulfilled, and the bounty that replaces the colorful, sweet, almost playful fruits of those months of warmth is sturdy, even workmanlike. These are foods meant to last, that call out for those spices that remind us of the comforts of pie. Grain becomes whiskey, grapes turn to wine, apples melt into cider, and inexplicably, pumpkins flavor our beer. So is it any wonder that Maine’s bartenders also adore fall?
Steve and Johanna Corman are the proprietors of Vena’s Fizz House in Portland’s Old Port. It’s a Wonkaesque flavor factory full of cocktails, mocktails, bitters, syrups and on and on. A love of fall is all but encoded into their DNA—Johanna’s family owns Apple Acres Farm in South Hiram, and their kids’ middle names are Macintosh and Macoun. After the busy summer season, Steve enjoys the more laid-back pace of what is still a brisk autumn trade. “The cool crisp mornings, warm days, and cooler nights are just awesome,” he tells me. “And the flavors of fall, like pears and sage—there’s just an incredible earthiness to them.” His Maple Pear Old Fashioned hits this nail on the head, marrying one of the bourbon infusion kits they sell flavored with pear, sage, and maple with one of their DIY herbal syrup kits and a dose of their house bitters. If I ever spend an afternoon raking leaves, I’ll want this immediately after.
At Lewiston’s Fuel bistro, however, bartender Rebecca Labrie freely confesses to being more of a summer girl. “I just want to be outside all the time,” she says. In the northern latitudes, peaches are still in season well into early fall, and her Peach and Tarragon Rye cocktail reflects her preference, looking like summer but with the smokiness of rye whiskey, tarragon’s licorice notes, ginger’s spice and the peach’s sweetness all coming together in a cocktail that is undeniably autumnal.
I always assumed that the fall of man actually happened in, well, fall. I mean, when else are apples in season? My contribution to this drinks roster, When Eve Ate Apples, puts a spice-laden blackstrap rum between the anvil of apple brandy and the hammer of apple cider with a drop of maple to hold it all in place. It’s a shapeshifter— just like a Maine fall can be—equally delicious as a thirst-quenching long drink or served short as a contemplative sipper.