Upgrade Your Cider This Winter

Photo: Peter Macdiarmid (Getty Images).

If you’re like me and you’re trying to go cold turkey on pumpkin-flavored products, it’s time set your sights on cider. We all enjoyed apple juice as tykes, but as we enter adulthood we crave more substance in our apple-based beverages.

In the United States, there are two different varieties of cider: cider and hard cider. Regular cider is unfermented (without alcohol) and made by pressing the juice from apples. The difference between cider and simple apple juice is the fact that cider is not remotely as sweet and might even have subtle spice flavors. Apple juice is also filtered multiple times and can be made from apple concentrate while cider needs to be made from fresh, pressed apples.

Also: Get Jacked With Applejack, The New Old Whiskey

Hard cider is similar to regular cider except that it is fermented. Fermentation creates alcohol, hence the “hard” moniker. Hard cider is one of the fastest growing segments in the American alcohol industry. Similar to craft beer and the recent boom of craft distilling, you would be hard pressed (pun intended) to visit a major city without running into at least a handful of cider-makers.


Photo: Kirk McKoy (Getty Images).

Hard ciders are similar to wine in the vast difference in styles. Some are very sweet and other are drier and more resemble a sparkling wine than cider. You can stop into your local grocery store and grab a six-pack of Strongbow, Angry Orchard, Woodchuck or Smith & Forge. If you want your hard cider to be a little more dry, you’ll want to go the route of craft hard cider. I’m sure you can find a local brand that suits your needs.


Upgrade Your Cider

Obviously, if you are going to make hot cider, you won’t want to use hard cider or apple juice. Neither would give you that warm, spiced feeling that hot regular cider gives you. Honestly, to make a great hot cider, all you need is a stove, a pot, a nice mug, cider and cinnamon sticks.

Pour the cider into the pot and toss in a cinnamon stick or two. Let it simmer for a few minutes on the stove before pouring it into your mug. It doesn’t get much simpler than that. You can jazz it up with the addition of many different ingredients, including allspice, orange slices or peels, nutmeg, cloves and brown sugar.

There’s no shame in just drinking a tasty mug of hot cider. But, if you are more adventurous, you might want to try spiking it with something harder.


How to Spike Hot Cider

Spiking your hot cider all comes down to personal preference. The one thing to remember is that not everyone wants booze in their hot cider and not all of your guests would enjoy the same heavy pour that you do. If you have the cider simmering on the stove or in a crock-pot, make sure to put a few bottles of potential mixers next to it so your guests can add it as they wish.


Picking Your Hot Cider Mixers

A nice spiced, dark rum works perfectly with the spiciness of the cinnamon and cider and the various other ingredients. Bourbon gives your hot cider a sweet kick that is perfect for a cold fall or winter night. Rye whiskey will add even more spice, but not be for everyone. Jim Beam Red Stag, Knob Creek Smoked Maple, Wild Turkey American Honey Sting, Jim Beam Fire, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey and various other flavored whiskies are a welcome addition depending on your own personal preference.

I’d stay away from gins and vodkas due to the fact that they might make your hit cider taste a little different than you would hope. But, what you add is up to you. That’s part of the fun of spiking hard cider. If you have some extra Fireball on hand or even Hochstadter’s Slow & Low Rock & Rye, pour some in and enjoy.