Fall Cocktails

5 Portland Bartenders Capture the Autumnal Spirit in a Glass

Bye, pumpkin spice. Hello, turmeric, Oregon pears & fig jam.

By Katherine Chew Hamilton Photography by Celeste Noche Published in the October 2020 issue of Portland Monthly

By this point in 2020, your go-to old-fashioned recipe might be getting a little stale. So we enlisted the help of five of the city’s best bartenders, asking them to help us push the envelope beyond stereotypical fall flavors. The results: Spiced pear cordial married with pineapple rum for a tiki-inspired take on fall. Sotol and vanilla rum mixed with oat milk and turmeric for a grassy yet fragrant milk punch. Earl Grey tea and walnut liqueur melded with bourbon for an evening sipper. Fig jam shaken up with tequila, rosemary, and dry curaçao for a bright, herbaceous, and fruity drink. You get the idea. Fancy glassware not included.

Ashelee Wells

Image: Celeste Noche

Ashelee Wells

National food and beverage magazines started buzzing about sotol, a spirit from Northern Mexico, a couple years ago. But Ashelee Wells, bartender at the popular Thai-meets-Texas-barbecue-meets-tiki-bar spot Eem since its opening in early 2019, was way ahead of the curve—she’d been introduced to sotol years earlier in her hometown of Houston, Texas.

“It’s not as crisp as tequila. It’s not going to be as smoky as mezcal,” Wells explains. “It tastes very lightly smoked—the faint whisper of a notion of smoke—with more of a vegetal, grassy texture. It doesn’t overpower. Everything plays well. The more you drink it, the more you can notice every note.”

Sotol’s easygoing nature makes it the perfect match for her fall cocktail, Golden Hour, which she created especially for Portland Monthly. It’s based on her love for turmeric in all shapes and forms, whether mixed with milk to create “golden milk,” added to a cocktail, or incorporated into one of her homemade body scrubs. Black pepper is a natural match for turmeric—“like peas and carrots,” she says—while cinnamon adds a hint of sweetness.

Golden Hour

Image: Celeste Noche

Golden Hour


1 oz sotol

½ oz aged rum

½ oz vanilla liqueur

½ oz lime juice

2½ oz golden milk*

2 dashes cardamom bitters

Strain over ice in a collins glass and garnish with fresh
cracked pepper.

*Golden Milk

Combine in a sealed container, like a mason jar, and give a good shake:

1 cup of extra creamy oat milk

1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper and ground ginger

3/4 tsp turmeric and cinnamon

2 oz 2:1 golden brown sugar syrup

Camille Cavan

Image: Celeste Noche

Camille Cavan

“If I were to go through all my cocktail names, it’d be like reading my diary,” says Camille Cavan, bar manager at Quaintrelle. “They’re all very personal to me.” At the N Mississippi Avenue spot, she creates thoughtfully named cocktails using straight-from-the-farm ingredients designed to pair with the restaurant’s vegetable-forward menu. This cocktail, dreamed up for our readers in honor of Cavan’s favorite season, was named after her father’s love for Greek mythology.

Though Quaintrelle isn’t a tiki bar in any sense, Cavan loves a good tiki cocktail. “That’s where I thrive and feel like I have the most fun,” Cavan says. This drink is equal parts fall-inspired (crème de noyaux, spiced pear cordial, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg) and tiki bar (pineapple rum, lime juice, pineapple gomme).

Cavan, of course, makes her pear cordial from scratch. “I’ve always loved working with fresh pears, especially in Oregon,” she says, but store-bought cordial works, too. She chose Angostura amaro as a float for its autumnal notes of blue fruits, cardamom, and cloves. The unusual addition of Greek yogurt, inspired by a yogurt cocktail that Cavan drank in London years ago, acts like orgeat, thickening the cocktail and adding richness and tartness without the sweetness of the almond you’d find in orgeat.

The Temple of Hephaestus

Image: Celeste Noche

The Temple of Hephaestus

Dry shake (no ice):

1 oz Plantation pineapple rum

¾ oz Appleton’s Reserve Blend 7 Yr

¼ oz Tempus Fugit crème de noyaux

1 oz fresh lime juice

1 barspoon traditional Greek yogurt

½ oz gingered pineapple gomme

½ oz spiced pear cordial

Fine-strain into vintage snifter. Add crushed ice. Add ¼ oz Angostura amaro as a float. Garnish with peeled pear twist; ground cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg blend; mint; and a seasonal flower, orchid, or Toschi cherry.

Micah Anderson

Image: Celeste Noche

Micah Anderson

Rum Club bartender Micah Anderson just wants guests to feel relaxed and have a good time, no matter their spirit of choice or their familiarity with cocktails. Though Rum Club specializes in its namesake liquor, Anderson created the Prairie Sunset for the “All You Others” section of the menu, devoted to non-rum drinks. This cocktail was inspired by his hometown of Oklahoma City and designed as a drink for evening sipping while watching the sunset. “The sunsets on the prairie in Oklahoma are actually pretty gorgeous,” Anderson says.

Here, the dry bitterness of cappelletti amaro, the nuttiness of the walnut liqueur, and the bold, fragrant flavors of bergamot and orange in the Earl Grey tea syrup combine forces to create an autumnal flavor profile. “Those richer, deeper fall flavors that you’re looking for fulfill you a little more than light, bright flavors in the summer,” Anderson says.

The result is a cocktail that’s dynamic and multidimensional. “When you take a sip of the cocktail, it’s not just one note,” Anderson says. “It does a little dance on your palate.”

Prairie Sunset

Image: Mike Novak

Prairie Sunset

Stir and strain over a large ice cube:

11/2 oz bonded bourbon (JTS)

1/2 oz Red Aperitif amaro (Cappelletti)

1/4 oz Earl Grey tea syrup*

10 drops walnut liqueur

Add an optional spritz of absinthe. Garnish with a cherry.

*Earl Grey Tea Syrup

Brew 8 oz (1 cup) of Earl Grey tea. Remove tea bags and add 8 oz of Sugar in the Raw. Bring to a simmer and stir until all sugar has dissolved. Allow to cool, then store in a nonreactive container in the fridge for up to four weeks.

Adriana Alvarez

Image: Celeste Noche

Adriana Alvarez

Adriana Alvarez has tended bar the past four years at Verde Cocina, where she often uses fresh fruit to create bright, flavorful drinks designed to go with the gluten-free, paleo-friendly menu.

This cocktail, Amor Eterno, is dedicated to Alvarez’s father, who recently passed away. It’s named after one of his favorite songs—a tribute to a lost loved one, she says. The drink was inspired by her father’s love for fresh figs. “He was a huge fan of figs and how sweet they were—I think that’s how I got my sweet tooth,” Alvarez says. She makes fig jam herself using fresh figs, but you can also substitute jam from the supermarket or a local maker.

The sugary figs are balanced with curaçao, while rosemary adds an herbal note that’s perfect for fall. Alvarez chose Altos Añejo tequila because it “plays well with others—bright, sweet, fruity.” Don’t forget to top the drink with a float of Cava. “Everyone likes a little bubbly on top,” she says.

Amor Eterno

Image: Celeste Noche

Amor Eterno

Shake well:

1 oz Altos Añejo tequila

1/2 oz dry curaçao

1/2 oz fig jam

3/4 oz lemon juice

Pour into a coupe glass. Top with Cava. Add a sprig of rosemary for garnish.

Jeffrey Morgenthaler

Image: Celeste Noche

Jeffrey Morgenthaler 

“Summer flavors are about celebrating one or two key ingredients,” says Jeffrey Morgenthaler. “I feel like fall flavors are about piling on flavor on top of flavor on top of flavor.”

Morgenthaler would know. The bar manager at downtown’s Clyde Common and formerly of Pépé le Moko, just downstairs, he has been in the industry since 1996, with two bartending books to his name. In 2016, he was awarded Tales of the Cocktail’s American Bartender of the Year.

At its base, Morgenthaler’s cocktail, dubbed the Flannel Shirt, is simply whiskey and apple cider, a combination he says “just screams fall to me.”

There’s warm, comforting spice from the allspice dram, the toastiness of the Demerara syrup, and a hint of acidity from the lemon juice. The Averna amaro, bolder and sweeter than many other amaros, holds up to being layered with other ingredients. For the apple cider, Morgenthaler recommends going with “the most local, freshest, smallest producer you can find.”

The Flannel Shirt

Image: Celeste Noche

The Flannel Shirt

Shake with ice:

3/4 oz scotch whisky

1½ oz fresh apple cider

½ oz Averna amaro

¼ oz lemon juice

1 tsp 2:1 Demerara syrup

½ tsp St. Elizabeth allspice dram

2 dashes Angostura bitters

Strain over fresh rocks in a large glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

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