Drink of the Week: The October Surprise

the October Surprise.Halloween, at least officially, is on Monday, so I have a seasonally appropriate drink of my own creation. It does not reference anything supernatural, but it does reference something scary and monstrous. I speak, of course, of the presidential election. I call it the October Surprise.

If you follow politics at all, “October Surprise” is a familiar phrase, particularly beloved by conspiracy theorists of varying stripes, that refers to pre-election October shocks that can change November outcomes. Arguably, we’ve had quite a few in 2016, though I personally think the only real surprise is that a reality TV star, known to have very poor impulse-control and no understanding of government or anything else of importance, ever got this close to the White House. Truly scary.

Anyhow, I’ve come up with a drink that’s a sweet and rich autumnal twist on a flip but contains a hot and spicy kick that could be deemed surprising and way more savory than your typical political surprise.

The October Surprise

1 1/2 ounces apple brandy, applejack or standard brandy
1/2 ounce apricot brandy
1/4 ounce agave nectar
1 slice persimmon
1 small slice of manzano chili pepper
1/2 whole egg
2 dashes rhubarb bitters
Grated nutmeg (desirable garnish)

Combine all of the ingredients, except for the persimmon and chili pepper slices, in a cocktail shaker without ice. “Dry shake” (i.e., shake without ice) vigorously to emulsify the egg. Add the persimmon and chili, and muddle. Be aware, however, that the more you muddle the pepper, the more heat you’re releasing into the drink, so act accordingly. Next, add ice and shake again, this time very vigorously.

Strain into a chilled cocktail glass; you’ll probably need to use a Hawthorn strainer for this thick concoction. Sprinkle with nutmeg. (I haven’t tried it, but cinnamon might also be nice.) Toast the sometimes frightening uncertainty of life.


The “surprise” in the October Surprise is the manzano chili pepper. “Manzano” is Spanish for “apple,” which it resembles in appearance. It’s a little bit sweet, but don’t be fooled, because it’s quite hot and should not be confused with a smaller version of a golden bell pepper. I was lucky to stumble over these peppers in my local Vallarta Supermarket in North Hollywood. If you’re not blessed with a Latin American supermarket in your vicinity, you have my condolences, but you’re welcome to try more widely available chilis. Maybe it’ll be easier to make this drink after the election, when we’ll, I’m told, very likely have taco trucks on every corner and, I imagine, Mexican-American markets in every city, town, village and hamlet.

The main thing you need to know about the manzano pepper is that the more of it you include and the harder you muddle it, the hotter your October Surprise is going to taste, and that can be pretty intense. My first try didn’t include any raw egg and I muddled the pepper and the persimmon — an undersung fall and winter fruit which I found last year can make a delicious flip — with equal vigor. The result was a drink that was uncomfortably hot for me and which had my in-house human guinea pig just about gasping for breath. Fortunately, using just half of an egg, combined with a more moderate approach to the apple chili pepper, balanced the thing out shockingly well. Done right, the heat of the chili really does sneak up on you in a way that’s much more pleasant than painful.

Oh, and more word of advice on using those manzano chili peppers. I have to admit that I’m not used to using a lot of fresh chilis and I learned the hard way that you need to be pretty darn careful about accidentally touching your eyes after working with these kind of peppers. Please wash your hands as thoroughly as possible after working with chilis or you might find yourself writhing over the sink and struggling to find a bottle of saline solution like I did. Twice.

As for the other non-hard liquor ingredients, I liked using rhubarb bitters, but you can definitely experiment with whatever other bitters you may have on hand, or you can even consider leaving that ingredient out entirely. Most flips don’t have bitters and I’m not completely certain it’s essential here, but I think it added some body and welcome acidity. I also used both light and amber agave syrups. Both were fine, but the amber syrup gave me a richer, sweeter flavor which some might prefer.

Moving on, since I wasn’t able to find any pre-packaged whole egg product in time for this, and my beloved pasteurized fresh eggs seem to have disappeared from neighborhood markets, I wound up using just regular, raw, large cage-free type eggs. The good news is that, at least as of this writing, no bodily October surprise has yet to emerge here at DOTW plaza. The bad news is that it’s kind of hard, if not impossible, to use half an egg. The easiest solution is double-up the recipe and make two drinks, like I did. Also, some supermarkets, including my local Vallarta, still carry medium eggs. They are obviously smaller than large eggs but they still might result in a somewhat richer drink, which might not be such a bad thing. If you can find small eggs — something I can’t even remember seeing in a supermarket during my adult life — they might be about ideal.

Finally, the booze. I would definitely say that my most flavorful results came using Laird’s 100 proof Straight Apple Brandy. However, utilizing Laird’s less expensive 80 proof Applejack (“a smooth blend”), as well as using garden variety grape-derived brandy (Paul Masson and Reynal), worked out very nicely. Thematically speaking, though, I suppose an apple-derived product is more October, if not any more surprising.