Apple cider says fall to me, and a warm apple cider cocktail in front of a firepit on a cool night exemplifies my best fall evening. Rather than complicate things with a lot of time-intensive ingredients, I wanted to keep this one as simple as possible. Combining a little lemon juice, maple syrup and a couple of fall bitters makes this a perfect cocktail to warm up a mug.
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For this cocktail, I chose a fresh apple cider from a local orchard. I prefer fresh cider to apple juice because it has just a little of pulp in the cider and the apple taste is much more vibrant. If you taste test heated up apple juice versus apple cider, you’ll know exactly what I mean.
I always advocate using local products where available. And this fresh apple cider is no exception. While I’ve gone to the orchard to purchase it in the past, it’s available now in some small specialty shops in the fall and around the holidays so it’s a convenience for me to pick it up at a local store nearby.
Sweetening with Maple Syrup
One of my favorite things to make with fresh apples from the orchard is apple butter. I love the way the cooked apples reduce down and start to evoke flavors of maple syrup. Instead of waiting to make apple butter, I’m going to add barrel-aged maple syrup here to create the cocktail.
I prefer maple syrup that’s Grade A “Robust” with a strong maple flavor to it. I’m using a small amount here, just a half ounce in a 7 ounce cocktail, and it needs to stand out against the cider and bourbon flavors.
Adding Lemon Juice
While I’m not making a sour here, adding just a bit of lemon juice to a cocktail with apple cider sharpens the slight tartness of the cider. You’ll see a good number of apple recipes add a bit of lemon to them – that hint of tartness lets the sweetness from the apples take center stage.
Bitters to Add
While you could make this cocktail without the bitters, I find it too sweet. If you only have Angostura bitters, the clove and anise notes from it will make a lovely addition to your warmed cocktail. However, if you have Old Forester’s Smoked Cinnamon bitters (or if you can locate then), I highly recommend them. They’re perfect for fall cocktails, and I also find myself reaching for them when making tiki-inspired cocktails as well.
In addition, Hella Bitters makes a wonder ginger bitter that goes in well with the maple/apple/cinnamon flavors we’re playing with here. It’s not too spicy with just a single dash, but it adds a wonderful scent of ginger to each taste of the warm cocktail.
Bourbon or Whiskey for your Apple Cider Cocktail
While I’m a huge fan of rye whiskey and apple cider, for this cocktail, since it’s warm, I wanted to stick with bourbon. My earliest toddies were always bourbon toddies, so I tend to lean toward bourbon when mixing warm drinks. However, if you prefer Tennessee whiskey or rye whiskey, have at it.
Why You Warm Your Mug
One of the reasons warm drinks are so comforting to me is the action of holding the hot mug between my hands. It’s almost as if your hands are getting hug. To make and keep the mug as warm as possible, be sure to heat the mug up prior to adding in the warm contents of the cocktail.
To do this at home I either add hot water from the tea kettle and let it set while I’m making the cocktail in another container. Or, I put the mug filled with water into the microwave for a minute or two, just enough to heat up the water, but not enough for a full boil.
If you create the drink and put it into a cold mug, the cocktail will lose a good bit of its heat in the first few minutes heating up the mug. Let the mug do the work of keeping it warm by heating it first.
Other Apple Drinks to Try
If you enjoy apple cider drinks, you must try my Caramel Apple Old Fashioned and Core Values – another apple cider cocktail. Both of them evoke the tastes or smells of fall and rely on an apple base to meld with whiskies.
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Recommended Bar Tools
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You probably already have these, but you may need them, too:
Warm Hearth – Warm Hands – Apple Cider Cocktail
- 4 oz apple cider
- 1.5 oz bourbon or whiskey
- ½ oz maple syrup
- ½ oz lemon juice
- 16 drops Smoked Cinnamon bitters
- 1 dash ginger bitters
- Garnish: apple slice and cinnamon stick
- Fill a mug with hot water and set aside to warm. Combine apple cider, maple syrup, lemon juice and bitters in a small saucepan or microwave-save container and heat up until almost simmering. Add in bourbon, stir to combine, and pour into warmed mug. Garnish with an apple slice and a cinnamon stick.