Fresh apple cider from the orchard makes the best cocktails, and in this Apple Cider Old Fashioned I’m using apple molasses, a concentrated reduction of apple cider, to build that vibrant apple flavor into the whiskey cocktail.
While it does take an extra step to make it, I’ve used apple molasses before in cocktails and the flavor from it is unlike any other apple cider syrup I might make. You can buy it online, but since it’s just a simple reduction, I make it myself.
A couple of weeks ago I made a fabulous caramel apple cocktail, but this time I wanted to focus on apple alone.
Apples and Bourbon
You’ll notice that in the fall, right as apples are coming in season, you start to see a huge increase in the number of whiskey cocktails people are drinking. While I drink whiskey year round, many people associate bourbon and whiskey with the fall. Apples pair well with whiskey for several reasons.
Many whiskies (and especially bourbons and ryes) have aromas and flavors of dried fruits. Apple is common as a flavor note in whiskies. In addition, the vanilla, caramel and baking spices from the aromas and flavors of whiskies pair perfectly with apples in culinary applications. Because it works in food, it’s going to work in cocktails.
Unlike most other fruit juices, apple cider is often served warm, so when people are thinking of whiskey season, they’re also thinking of hot beverages, like hot cider.
Whiskies to use for Apple Cocktails
For this cocktail, I’ve kept with 100 proof bourbons and chose ones that either had great baking spice notes or ones that already had notes of apple apparent in them. That way I knew I’d have a match of aromas and flavors to play with that mingle well in the cocktail itself.
This is fantastic with Johnny Drum Bourbon from Willett Distillery, as well as Michter’s Toasted Bourbon (which I used because of the prevalence of apple notes in the spirit). I also tried a Whistle Pig Rye Single Barrel that was all apples and toffee to me. It was amazing in the cocktail, but that whiskey’s amazing on its own, so use a less expensive whiskey if you want.
In addition to bourbon, both American rye and Canadian whiskies can work wonders in apple cocktails. Because rye has more spice to it, check that you don’t pick a hot, aggressive rye for the cocktail. If you stick to ryes that fall a little under 95 in proof, you’ll likely find a great match. Canadian whiskies, often at an 80-90 proof, taste fantastic with apples. Both Forty Creek and Pendleton ryes are fabulous matches with apple flavors.
What’s an Old Fashioned?
If you’re new to whiskey and bourbon you may want a quick primer on the Old Fashioned. For a longer article on the perfect old fashioned recipe and the history of the drink, go here: How to Make a Perfect Old Fashioned.
It’s one of the oldest cocktails. In fact, the earliest cocktails recorded were spirits, bitters, and sugar – the same three basic components of the old fashioned. It didn’t start being called the old fashioned until 1880 (at least, that’s the first time in print) when habitual whiskey cocktail drinkers grew tired of the addition of fruit, fancy liqueur, and such in their drinks. They started to request the “old fashioned whiskey cocktail.”
Like the mimosa today, the Old Fashioned was originally a morning drink, something to start you day off right. Since bitters were consumed as medicines at the time, it made sense. You start off the day with your medicinal bitters with a chaser of whiskey and little sugar to sweeten the deal.
You can drink this Apple Old Fashioned any time of day, however.
Bitters in the Apple Old Fashioned
I had more challenges with the bitters for this cocktail than most. I had originally thought a combination of ginger bitters and apple bitters would be best, but the apple bitters added a strange after-taste that didn’t fit with the rest of the profile. The ginger added a tiny kick, but it was a one-note addition to the cocktail. After trying some gingerbread bitters and some ginger apricot bitters I found a combination that worked.
I settled on Old Forester’s Bohemian bitters and Woodford Reserve’s Sorghum and Sassafras bitters. The combination of those two with the apple molasses was perfect. It added a little bitterness to the drink, but didn’t overwhelm the pairing of the apple molasses, maple, and bourbon.
Apple Molasses in Cocktails
If you’ve seen my Caramel Apple cocktail, you’ll have read about apple molasses already, but in short, it’s reduction of fresh apple cider (only very lightly filtered, you want to see some pulp in the cider) over a low boil for about an hour. In essence, you reduce the cider down to 1/8th it’s usual volume. I used the recipe here and cut it in ½ since I just had ½ gallon of fresh cider.
For my reductions, I buy ½ gallon of cider and reduce it down to 1 cup. That’s plenty for cocktails and drizzling over desserts. The apple cider molasses is thick and tart when it’s finished and chilled. It’s perfect for drizzling over waffles or warm biscuits.
I did learn that you can’t substitute highly filtered and pasteurized cider for this, nor apple juice. Neither will reduce to the sweet and tart apple molasses syrup that makes this drink unforgettable. You will get a concentrated syrup, but it won’t be as good as molasses made from a fresh pressed cider.
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You probably already have these, but you may need them, too:
Apple Old Fashioned
- 2 oz bourbon (rye whiskey or Canadian whiskey will work, see notes in text above)
- ¼ oz apple molasses (recipe link in article above)
- ¼ oz maple syrup
- 10 drops Woodford Reserve Sorghum and Sassafras bitters
- 10 drops Old Forester Bohemian bitters
- Garnish: apple, cinnamon stick
- Add bourbon, apple molasses and bitters to a mixing glass. Add ice and stir until well-combined. Strain into a rocks glass with one large rock. Garnish with cinnamon stick and apple slice.