Drinks cabinet reshuffle: who’s in and who’s out this autumn

Joel Harrison takes his drinks cupboard seriously. Here he offers some innovative tips for organising and pepping up your spirit shelves to coincide with the shift in seasons

Words by Joel Harrison

Spirits bottles – drinks cabinet

It’s that time of year when I find myself in the garden, rake in hand, clearing up the deluge of copper-coloured leaves that have created a crunchy carpet across the usually well-curated raised beds and borders. A good clean-up is what’s required, but it’s not just outside where my pre-winter tidying has started. The autumn months see a shift in my drinks cabinet, too.

In summer, certain spirits such as gin make their way to the front, blossoming as the sun brightens and the days lengthen. I have written before, as have others, about not forgetting some of the lesser-used spirits in summer to create some truly refreshing drinks – from the Sidecar with Cognac to a highball with whisky.

But despite playing around with some more esoteric dark-drink-driven cocktails this summer, it is still the classics that play the loudest. The soundtrack for most will have been the clink of ice into a glass, the glug from a gin bottle, and the fizz-crack of a can of tonic opening.

a gin and tonic with lots of garnishes
Joel Harrison switches from citrus-led gins to spicier versions as the nights draw in

With the clocks changing, and the mornings now painted white with frost, your drinks choice will naturally change to something a little more warming. Now is the time to take stock of your drinks cabinet in preparation for the coming months. But where to start? The first thing to do when making room in your cupboards is to identify any of your favourite bottles from a summer of drinking that now have just a measure or two left inside. It’s time to use up those last few drops.

I drink precious little Tequila in the winter months, but more Margaritas than most in the summer. This tends to leave me around this time of year with a bottle or two with less than a third left inside, and greedily taking up shelf space I know I’m going to need for a go-to Scotch or warming brandy. But what do to with this Mexican marvel?

A surprisingly good drink to fill a flask with ahead of an autumnal walk consists of warmed-through apple juice and a splash of Tequila. Hey presto, you have yourself an autumn-appropriate twist on the toddy while ensuring you’re a bottle lighter, freeing up precious real estate in your drinks cabinet. I favour switching tonic for ginger ale at this time of year, too, to help see off the last remaining drizzles left in any summer gin bottles.

My gin consumption shifts significantly from citrus-driven gins towards earthy or spicy versions

Once you’ve freed up some space, another consideration is curating a line-up of spirts more tailored to this time of year. Gin is a drink that can span the seasons, being refreshing in the aforementioned G&T, but also surprisingly warming in a Negroni. However, my gin consumption shifts significantly at this time of year, away from the citrus-driven crisp and clean gins such as Beefeater, Tanqueray or Sipsmith, towards earthy or spicy gins such as Opihr, Pink Pepper, or Dark Gin from Finland’s Kyrö Distillery.

The latter is an excellent example of a spirit that has thrown off the sunglasses and swimming shorts in favour of a warm jacket and a beanie. The producers themselves even describe it as ‘gin for when the weather sucks’, with a rye spirit base, 17 spices and botanicals, and around a year aged in American oak. The result is a quasi-dark spirit with all the vim and vigour of gin and all the warming notes of an aged spirit.

Negroni – drinks cabinet
Try using rich, fruity sloe gin in place of regular gin in a Negroni – the perfect drink for this time of year

The other style of gin that takes my fancy at this time of year is sloe gin. Once all my summer gin is finished, I turn to the trusty Negroni, either with delicious, sweet and fruity sloe gin (I dial back the red vermouth slightly to allow the sloe gin to shine) or indeed by slipping in those spice-led gins and stirring down with a cinnamon stick.

Of course, ’tis the season for whisky and brandy, too, and I will be diligently looking through my notes from various tasting sessions to see what I’ll order as my go-to and special occasion bottles. But needless to say, there will be a good smoky single malt, a rich Cognac, and a trusted vintage Armagnac making their way into my cabinet, to be sipped neat throughout the period.

Now, just to work out which of my summery gins I finish off first after a hard day’s gardening. Someone pass me the ginger ale.

What Joel Has Been Drinking…

  • In my search for warming whiskies this month, I’ve been absolutely blown away by the quality and consistency of bottlings from Islay’s Bowmore distillery. Through its partnership with Aston Martin, a new release of a 21-year-old is on the way (12,000 bottles, 51.8% abv) which is rich and delicious. In addition, two more limited-edition releases have been released under the No Corners To Hide title and in collaboration with comic book artist Frank Quitely. There’s a 23-year-old and a 32-year-old single malt, with the younger one the pick of the two for me.

  • Peated whisky doesn’t just come from Islay or the Scottish islands. There are plenty of mainland distilleries making a smoky style of whisky, and another I have fallen for this month is Speyside distillery The Balvenie’s 17-year-old ‘Week of Peat’ edition. At 49.4% abv it retains all the heather-honey notes that Balvenie is famed for, but adds a soft overtone of delicate peat and flamed orange peel. A real cracker for a different take on the smoky whisky style.

  • Bombay Sapphire gin’s excellent master distiller Dr Anne Brock has created a new small-batch Premier Cru Murcian Lemon edition. Using sustainably sourced Murcian Fino lemons, mandarins and sweet Navel oranges, it is an intense and utterly delicious rendition of a citrus-forward gin, and has seen me through the changing of the clocks this month.

Joel Harrison
By Joel Harrison

Joel Harrison is an award-winning spirits writer, and spirits consultant for Club Oenologique.