For many, the term 'pumpkin spice' has become synonymous with fall flavors, especially in drinks. Danny Louie's Vasco de Gama puts an entirely different spin on that concept. Found on the cocktail menu of Alembic in San Francisco, it shares a few constituent elements—cloves and cinnamon—but sees them as part of something greater: garam masala-spiced apple syrup.
If you don't have all the required spices on hand, we recommend buying from the bulk bins so that you can pick up just as much as you need, without splurging on an entire jar. We were able to get together almost everything for less than $5. The only component that proved to be tricky was the bird's eye chili. Look in Asian grocery stores for dried, red peppers that are about an inch or two long. Ours came in a 100 gram plastic bag simply labeled "Dehydrated Small Chili." Be sure to watch your spices carefully as you toast them—if they burn, you'll have to start over.
Once you've toasted the garam masala and infused the cider syrup with its flavor, it's time to assemble the drink. Simply stir the syrup with bourbon and Scotch over ice. The syrup adds a slightly viscous texture, and the spirits are heavy enough that even as your ice melts, the flavor won't be diluted too far. As for the spice, it hits strong on the nose, but the flavor isn't overwhelming: rich, mysterious, slightly savory, slightly sweet.
The cocktail may be cold, but it's going to warm you up from the inside; the kick from the Scotch sees to that. Alembic uses an Islay Scotch, which will bring a stronger smoky flavor, while we used a Speyside that was a bit more tame. Combined with the bourbon—like Louie, we used Buffalo Trace—and the syrup, it simply taste like fall.