Drinking the Bottom Shelf: Hiram Walker Pumpkin Spice and Caramel Apple Liqueurs

Drinking the Bottom Shelf

Will Gordon drinks his way through the bottom shelf of the liquor store...so you don’t have to.


I claim to like autumn, but the truth is I'd be perfectly happy with a dozen Julys a year. After a snowy October weekend of hermitism and the accidental introspection that creeps up on you after the seventh whiskey-and-I-think-there's-some-Sprite-in-there-or-maybe-sour-cream, I've come to the conclusion that I've never really liked the changing of the seasons except when they change into summer.

I think I just say I like fall because so many of the rest of you do and I don't want to look like a grump all the time. It's exhausting to defend my dislike of dogs and Christmas and strippers and the Beatles, so when the topic of fall comes up, I just nod along and say, "Yeah, I like apples and football, sure, yay fall!"

And it's true, I do really like apples and football. But I'd trade any amount of either for an extra week of summer. Strawberries and baseball are also very nice, you see, and it doesn't snow or get dark at 4:00 p.m. when they're in season. But I'm a rational man of science and I understand that the sun must revolve around the tides in a manner that prettily kills the leaves and makes the trees bleed syrup, and the nation's mulch piles and pancakes are all the stronger for it.

But just accepting autumn's inevitability isn't enough to get me to enjoy it any more than I expect to enjoy last call or gout. I'm sure I'll never love the annual soggy march through winter's waiting room, but I trust that with the proper help I can find small islands of solace. Liquor, everyone. I need fall liquor.

There are tons of great fall drinks out there. I adore everything about these Halloween drinks except the idea of making them for myself. I think you guys should definitely make each drink and report back to me, because I mean it when I say they look fantastic. And they're probably not all that hard to sling at yourself, since the heaviest lifting—the thinkin' part—has already been done for us. But I'm not a very ambitious drink-maker. To the untrained eye, this could look like laziness on my part, but it's actually just that I put so damn much effort into the drinking part that I can't spare any undue energy up front on the prep work.

So while I would love to venture forth into the slush and pay a qualified professional to prepare several multistep seasonal cocktails, I seem to have misplaced my scarf and my desire to interact with other humans. What options are there for the shut-in slacker who aspires to drink seasonally?

For this lucky devil on this cursed weekend, the solution was to break out the Hiram Walker Caramel Apple and Pumpkin Spice liqueurs that had been sent to the house by a publicist who guaranteed that these 30-proofers would uplift my fall.

Hiram Walker Caramel Apple:

Though I like apples, because what kind of monster doesn't?, I'm not a huge caramel proponent, and I'm skeptical of all budget-priced liqueurs after my recent DeKuyper fiasco, and that goes doubly for liqueurs with candy invoked right in the name. To be honest, I only agreed to try the Caramel Apple because I really wanted the pumpkin one and didn't want to risk the publicist finding pictures of me in a one-man, 12-bar Snickers orgy after I'd faked a caramel allergy.

I'm glad I stuck with my policy of complete integrity when wheedling free booze out of liquor companies, because this stuff is very good. It tastes overwhelmingly of caramel, with a soft undercurrent of something fruity; I might have guessed it was Caramel Watermelon if I hadn't read the label (well, I wouldn't guess that anyone would combine those flavors in a liqueur, but what I'm saying is that I might not have picked out the apple without the subtle hint in the product name). I sipped a couple shots of it straight, but it is pretty thick and therefore best for mixing.

I went with the label's simple suggestion: couple ounces of decent vodka, couple ounces of Caramel Apple, couple good icy shakes, strain, and you've got yourself a pretty nice and really simple drink. I think this stuff would find its highest purpose in a hot toddy, though, or in a mug of hot cider. It retails for about $10 per 750mL bottle, and it's well worth it any day and nearly mandatory today, which as you surely know is National Caramel Apple Day.

Hiram Walker Pumpkin Spice:

This flavor (also about $10 a bottle) is the one my pumpkin-loving girlfriend and I were looking forward to, and it really came through. It's a surprisingly balanced liqueur that, like the Caramel Apple, is pretty good on its own and even better shaken up into a little vodka. It has detectable scents of both pumpkin and the traditional spice accompaniments, and it tastes like good, strong pumpkin beer supplemented with a smooth buttery orange kick at the back.