Many seem to think that fall drinking means heavy cocktails dosed with bourbon. And there's nothing wrong with those. But bourbon isn't actually the flavor that comes to mind when you picture being eight years old, curling up by the window to watch the orange and red leaves fluttering down. In those days, I can bet that you probably didn't have a mug of bourbon in hand. It was cider, steaming hot and fragrant.
So for this simple fall drink, I returned to fresh apple cider, the kind you get in a jug at the pick-your-own orchard (or the farmers market or the refrigerated section of your local grocery store.) I married it with brown sugar, which offers a richly nutty, molasses-like sweetness without the heft (or boozy punch) of a spirit like bourbon. But it needs a little more to make a complex drink, the type of cocktail you can sip all evening.
The key ingredient: Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth. This delicious stuff (we like it solo on the rocks, too) enriches the cider's fruity flavor, adding body, plus hints of vanilla, chocolate, and spice. Since the vermouth is deeply flavorful without being strongly alcoholic, it means you can drink a couple and still negotiate the demands of hosting all of your family for an epic autumn feast. (And you can keep refilling glasses without worrying that Uncle Al is going to wind up under the coffee table.) The drink is balanced with fresh lemon and a fizzy pour of club soda to keep you refreshed.
Now all you need is a big ol' pile of leaves to jump in.