The Great Pumpkin Spice

Autumn's signature spice mix gets a boozy makeover
Photo: Michelle Sun/Tasting Table
New Pumpkin Spice

A lot of good things begin with "pumpkin spice." Latte, toothpaste, Oreos and, now, mai tai (see the recipe).

However, as nostalgic and soul warming as the iconic blend of cinnamon, ginger, allspice and nutmeg is, pumpkin spice hasn't seen much change since it was first christened by the Washington Post in a 1936 cake recipe and later packaged into one easy mix by big companies, like McCormick, in the 60s.

So we thought it was about time pumpkin spice got a serious overhaul, and Gaby Mlynarczyk, the newly appointed general manager and beverage director at Birch in Los Angeles, agrees.

"Pumpkin spice is a little one notey for my taste," she says. "I am not a big fan of pumpkin anything unless it's savory."

Known for her experimental popcorn-infused quaffs at Michael Voltaggio's Ink and garden-inspired drinks at Cadet, Mlynarczyk is garnering praise these days for her spice-powered cocktails.

So in addition to the aforementioned classic combo, she has sprinkled in a few of her favorite spices—licorice-like star anise and lip-tingling Sichuan peppercorns—to make a more sophisticated pumpkin spice.

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"I love Chinese five-spice powder—it's the ultimate blend of spice and aromatics," Mlynarczyk says of her inspiration for this pumpkin spice. "Here, the addition of star anise enhances the nose whilst the Sichuan balances it out with an earthy kick."

For her pumpkin spice mai tai, she shakes up her pumpkin spice with the usual tiki suspects: white rum, lime juice, curaçao and herbal absinthe. "A flaming lime shell filled with absinthe is a traditional garnish on tiki drinks, though not usually on a mai tai. But, here, the anise in the spice mix plays well with the absinthe with the Sichuan delivering some heat," she shares. Then she tops it off with another pinch of pumpkin spice and fat leaves of mint. As for what to do with the remaining spice mix, Mlynarczyk recommends dusting it over chocolate ice cream or roasted vegetables—or making more mai tais, obviously.

Earthy, herbal, a little spicy and just sweet, this autumn-appropriate mai tai is how we're getting our pumpkin spice fix this season.

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