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Bar Talk: October means spooky season is here

Spooky Cocktail
Rose Laudicina

The air has a definitive fall crisp to it, the leaves have turned an eye-catching shade of gold, red and orange, and pumpkins seem to adorn every space and flavor every autumn treat.

To kick off Halloween month in a festive way, I got together with some friends for a screening of the latest Hocus Pocus movie, like many other ’90s kids did the moment the movie was released on Disney+.

While “Hocus Pocus 2” is by no means scary, we leaned into the witchy theme and made some themed, spooky treats, including a drink, to enjoy while watching a piece of our childhood be revived.



Most October-themed drinks tend to be pumpkin or pumpkin-spice-flavored, but, as mentioned, we were going for witchy vibes, so we settled on a dark and pumpkin-free drink for the evening’s event.

Using a recipe from the blog afullliving.com as a jumping off point, we added our own spin to the concoction and stirred up a drink I think the Sanderson sisters would be proud of.




The original recipe called for gin, basil or mint, blueberries, activated charcoal, lemon juice, and ginger beer.

To cut down on steps and reduce the amount of time spent searching the Roaring Fork Valley for activated charcoal, we took two ingredients and made them one by grabbing a bottle of charcoal lemonade from Jus Aspen.

Then, instead of original ginger beer, we used hibiscus ginger beer, adding another level of flavor and a deeper color to the drink.

The original recipe says you can use basil or mint; we went for basil, which you can find fresh at the final Aspen Saturday Market today; and, as far as we’re concerned, the more basil the better in this drink.

We muddled around eight to 10 leaves in the bottom of each glass, and it provided a fantastic herbal punch in both flavor and aroma, adding a sort of savory element to the cocktail.

In addition to the basil, a handful of blueberries gets muddled in each glass, and we elected to use recently frozen berries, which turned out to be the right call because the frozen blueberries maintained some bite and added a chill to the drink. Warm berries might have added a less appetizing texture.

However, if the idea of semi-frozen smashed blueberries in your drink doesn’t appeal to you, then you can opt to muddle them in the cocktail shaker and pour using a strainer to keep the flavor and remove the texture.

Then, in your shaker of choice — I used a mason jar — add the charcoal lemonade. Be sure to shake the lemonade up first to get the right balance of charcoal and lemonade: two ounces per cocktail.

To the shaker, add two ounces of your gin of choice. We made two rounds of this cocktail, the first with Leopold Brothers gin and the second with Empress Gin. Both rounds tasted great, but the richer dark color was achieved using the Empress Gin, which already starts off as a fun blueish-purple color, thanks to the use of butterfly pea flower.

Add ice to the shaker, put a lid on it, and shake it up to combine and chill all ingredients.

Pour the dark drink into a glass with ice — we elected to use rocks glasses — and top it off with the hibiscus ginger beer.

The result is a spooky yet delightful drink that is herbal and juicy — not too sweet and definitely one you could sip on all evening.

It’s not exactly a spirit-forward drink, but it’s surprisingly fresh despite the dark color. It’s also easy for a beginning at-home bartender to make.

What really helped make the drink special, besides the black color thanks to the activated charcoal, was the combination of basil and blueberries — especially the blueberries since they are a flavor not often used in cocktails. Most cocktails seem to call for blackberries or raspberries, and the blueberries in this drink helped bring a unique and refreshing element to it.

For a small get-together, this drink works great, but, for a larger gathering, unless someone is playing bartender all night, I might not recommend it since each round requires freshly muddled herbs and berries; as a batched drink, the flavors wouldn’t hold up as well.

Cheers to spooky season made even better with haunting drinks in hand.

If you make …

(Recipe for three cocktails)
Eight to 10 basil leaves per glass

Small handful of blueberries per glass

6 ounces charcoal lemonade

6 ounces gin

1 can hibiscus ginger beer