Essential Fall Drinking: Hard Cider Cocktails

Hard cider + booze = this fall's drink of choice
October 21, 2015
by Sarah Freeman

Last year, we took a deep dive into the hard cider trend that introduced drinkers to the fruity and funky world of fermented apples. Bartenders, being the notoriously restless type, are now upping the ante this season by spiking hard ciders with assorted spirits and thus ushering in the age of hard cider cocktails. "Proper farmhouse cider is a natural fit for the cocktail," says Greg Hall, founder of Virtue Cider. "It delivers both the sugar and acid of the apple, two key elements, plus the complexity of the fermentation and even notes from the barrel. It makes so many cocktails more interesting." These drinks range from light and refreshing, allowing on the subtle effervesces of the cider shine, to warm and comforting, using the cider as an accent for the spirit-driven drinks we crave as the weather turns cold.

Falling Leaves at Cantina 1910
The transition from summer to fall can be a tough one, but the Falling Leaves cocktail eases the pain with a warm cocktail using seasonal cider. Currently, it is Vander Mill’s ginger-peach — a reminder of the end of stone fruit season — with whiskey, St. Elizabeth allspice dram and bitters. Soon, the cider will switch over to Totally Roasted, a cider flavored with roasted pecans.

Carte Blanc at Lula Café
One might think that when adding booze to hard cider, the quality of the cider doesn’t matter. Wrong. Beverage director Diana Hawkins prefers a cider made with the same attention to detail as wine. It comes from Eric Bordelet, a former sommelier in Paris who took over his family's estate in Normandy in the 1990s. He believes hard cider should be produced like wine, resulting in a complex yet balanced beverage. Hawkins combines his Sidre Brut Tendre with Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac, Denizen 8 Year Rum, Suze and Dolin Blanc to make a slightly floral and bitter fall apéritif.

Winter Is Coming at Lillie’s Q
“When making Winter Is Coming, I wanted to make a fall cocktail that reminded people of the change of season but also was a super-refreshing cocktail on our list,” says bartender Jorge Saldarriaga. He turned to Vender Mill’s Totally Roasted cider to add a layer of toasty effervescence to his gin and pumpkin cocktail. The pumpkin purée syrup drives home the “this is fall” flavor, while the cider keeps the cocktail light with an assist from fresh lemon juice.

Gorilla vs. Shark at The Winchester
When looking for a cider to add to her dream fall cocktail, bartender Jessica Hart also opted for Vander Mill. She wanted something dry, but not too light. “The body adds weight to the cocktail,” she says. “I think people want something with a little more weight than a highball as we move into fall and winter.” The strong fruit notes also stand up to the cocktail’s other ingredients, including dark rum, Cappelletti, allspice dram, pineapple juice and Hellfire bitters.

June of ’44 at The Whistler
"The June of ‘44 brings together two of my favorite things behind the bar: Green Chartreuse and dry English hard cider,” he says. “It was only natural to name the cocktail after one of my favorite bands.” To complement Chartreuse's herbal notes, Brenner adds thyme syrup and ginger juice, then balances the drink's sweet side with Liard’s 7.5-year apple brandy, adds some lemon juice and serves it all over ice for a warming, low-proof drink with an effervescent finish.

Them Apples at Lush Wine & Spirits (pictured)
It seems like hard cider can go with just about anything, from gin to Chartreuse to even mezcal. Owner Mitch Einhorn selects the smoky spirit to complement Crispin sparkling hard cider. But that’s not the only booze that goes into the toasty, autumnal cocktail: it also gets a dash of Buffalo Trace Stagg Jr. to “create a perfect fall smokiness,” while apéritifs, including Aperol and Pommeau du Domaine de Semainville, add bitterness to counter the sweetness of apple cider simple syrup. 

fall cocktails
hard cider