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Spend the season with Bowbarr's Cabin Fever

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I don't want to pay $12 for a liquid cookie.

Unless it's a glass of straight bourbon, I prefer for my drinks to taste like cough syrup. A touch of sweetness is fine, but I need that rush of bitterness and the stinging sensation to know I'm indulging in a vice. This means Negronis and Palomas in the summer, a smoky scotch or rye whiskey in the winter. And it means I turn my nose up altogether at seasonal fall cocktail menus, inevitably plagued by cloying pumpkin spice or maple sweetness. I don't want to be that basic.

Bowbarr's John Bowman makes a Cabin Fever, one of the seasonal drinks at Bowbarr in Carrboro, NC. - PHOTO BY ALEX BOERNER
  • Photo by Alex Boerner
  • Bowbarr's John Bowman makes a Cabin Fever, one of the seasonal drinks at Bowbarr in Carrboro, NC.

That's why I only skimmed the autumn menu at Carrboro's Bowbarr, where the names of three specialty cocktails come cozily handwritten and bordered by illustrations of squirrels and other fauna. But then my gaze caught the capital F of Fernet, slightly taller than the lowercase bubble letters around it. Fernet gives me the urge to relax and hover over a finished meal, like a carefree old Italian man on a cigarette break.

But here it came mixed with tequila and a hint of pumpkin butter to create the "Cabin Fever." Tequila lures me into a state of mind completely opposite from Fernet. Yes, I sip it, too, but afterward, I never stay put.

The idea of combining my favorite downer and upper into one drink confused and excited me, despite my seasonal reservations, so I placed my order. The dollop of pumpkin butter creates a layered flavor profile between the two liquors. I first tasted tequila, dragging along the sweet, velvety pumpkin flavor before I had time to sense the shocking aftertaste.

Bowbarr's John Bowman - PHOTO BY ALEX BOERNER
  • Photo by Alex Boerner
  • Bowbarr's John Bowman

Then Fernet branca followed. On its own, the slightly licorice finish is quickly apparent, but the pumpkin brought out the botanical qualities of the herbs used to make it. (Though Fernet is originally from Italy, the Argentinians have perfected it with recipes kept hidden like Grandpa's secrets, revealed slowly after each shared meal.) The rim of the glass—dipped in crushed, salted pepitas, or pumpkin seeds—plays up those savory flavors.

"Specialty cocktails are a collaboration between the bartenders and I," says co-owner Amanda Barr. "Michelle Temple, who doesn't currently work at Bowbarr, came up with the idea to combine Fernet, tequila and pumpkin flavor. But Fiona Matthews had the idea to use pumpkin butter."

PHOTO BY ALEX BOERNER
  • Photo by Alex Boerner

The move helps make the Cabin Fever a perfectly pleasant potential cure for that looming Thanksgiving tryptophan hangover, even if you need to leave your cabin—and your suspicion of seasonal cocktails—behind before November's end to get it.

Eat This is a recurring column about great new dishes and drinks in the Triangle. Had something you loved? Email food@indyweek.com.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Spiritual conflicts"

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