It’s officially Fall, and that means everyone’s putting pumpkin in – well – everything.

But pumpkin is a challenging ingredient to use behind the bar – especially if you actually want a drink to taste like pumpkin. Here are two methods for making a pumpkin syrup that are the best I’ve figured out so far.

Method 1: Pumpkin Syrup, From Scratch

Coming from a craft cocktail bar, it was important to us to use fresh ingredients. Unfortunately it was extremely difficult to find fresh pumpkins with the sugar content we needed to use in cocktails. (The stuff you buy in the can is actually not pumpkin at all, but a type of squash.) (source)

After much trial and error roasting, pureeing and tasting half a dozen pumpkins we gave in and ended up using Kabocha squash. Sigh. The good news is (as mentioned above) everyone’s used to eating squash and calling it pumpkin, it really does taste like “pumpkin”!

Here’s how to make “Pumpkin” Syrup from Scratch:

1. Chop up the squash and remove the seeds

You can also remove the skin at this stage, but I like to wait until after roasting – it’s easier.

2. Roast at 425 degrees until tender – it took us about an hour.

Cover with tin foil to prevent drying out the squash. Since the oven’s hot, you can also throw the (cleaned) seeds in on a cookie sheet for a snack.

3. Add the roasted squash to a stock pot (with skins removed) and add a cup and a half of each sugar and water.

You’re basically making a simple syrup in the same pot as the pumpkin. This is for roughly 1 lb of Kabocha squash.

4. Bring to a low boil until reduced by half.

At this stage, you could add cinnamon, clove and nutmeg, etc. to add flavor. Do this if you’re planning to call your final drink “Pumpkin Spice” anything!

5. Strain out the squash

A fine-strainer just won’t cut it here. You can use several layers of cheesecloth or a clean and damp kitchen towel. We used a towel which worked just fine.

6. Cool and use!

Look at that beautiful syrup! As you can see it’s much more transparent (and “syrup” looking) than the mixture we strained out in the picture above.

Method 2: Straight from the Can

If you’re not super set on using fresh ingredients, there’s no shame in starting with the canned stuff. This lets you skip the whole roasting roasting step (and the part where you have to find Kobucha squash in the store. Not easy!)

1. Add ½ can of pureed pumpkin to a stockpot with 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar.

Again, you’re basically making a simple syrup – plus pumpkin.

2. Heat to a low boil, stirring to dissolve. Reduce by half.

This step does two things: it concentrates the syrup while infusing it with the flavor of the pumpkin.

3. Fine-strain the full batch using a linen cloth or layered cheesecloth.

Again, a fine-strainer just isn’t a tight enough weave for this. A Chinois would likely work too.

Using These Pumpkin Syrups in Cocktails:

Neither of these syrups had a truly robust “pumpkin” flavor, and I’d recommend choosing your cocktail recipes carefully. As I mentioned, at my bar we used a pumpkin syrup as part of a modified brandy milk punch. The final cocktail was not super pumpkin-y, but the flavor was there. When writing this article, we experimented with a few other recipes and found the following:

  • This syrup is easily overpowered. Stay away from strongly flavored spirits like spiced rum or rye whiskey – you won’t taste the pumpkin at all.
  • Winter flavors work well, but again, be careful not to overwhelm. We used a couple drops of my Rooibos Tea tincture and it added a nice depth to the drink.
  • If using acid, stick with lemon. Lime and pumpkin just didn’t mix well.
  • Even straining well, there is still some starch left in the syrup. This may leave a very faint line around the edge of the drink in the glass. My customers never noticed, but I thought it was worth mentioning.
If you’ve figured out how to get a great, robust pumpkin flavor into your drinks, I’d love to hear how! Let me know in the comments below.

Chris Tunstall

Co-Founder of A Bar Above and career bartender and mixologist. I love experimenting, creating cocktails, and drinking Green Chartreuse.