Have you heard? Cider is having a moment. Yes, I know, of course you’ve heard!
It seems that excitement about (hard) cider has reached a fever pitch as food journalists here, there, and everywhere have taken note that it is the fastest growing alcoholic beverage category.
It was America’s original favorite spirituous beverage and cold regions' answer to wine. Popularity and interest in cider has grown as craft cider makers have moved away from easy, fruity, fizzy and have rediscovered the art of making cider that is intense, funky, and makes you think.
It should be no great surprise, then, that clever bartenders have taken note of this interesting ingredient and started to shake and stir it up with other spirits to concoct cider cocktails. Brown spirits like rum, bourbon, or rye that have definite molasses, caramel, vanilla, and spice leanings are easy, natural fits for the apple flavors of ciders.
All you need to do is upend a shot of one of these spirits into a glass of cider—opt for a cider that is not sweet but also not completely dry, so it still has a bit of sugar and apple flavor—and you’ll have yourself a pleasant cocktail for sipping.
On the other hand, as the alcohol content of the cider goes up, the sugar recedes (remember: there’s a trade-off between sugar and alcohol because as the yeast eats the sugar it makes a higher alcohol and a drier tasting final product). This leaves behind flavors of earth, mushrooms, and barnyard (the, um, pleasant kind of barnyard), which will be more complicated with your mixology.
Good dry cider, of the sparkling sort (not all hard cider is sparkling), reminds me in some ways of a complex dry Champagne, and I like to put it to use in various cocktails that you could group and categorize as the extended family of the French 75. Shake an ounce of blended Scotch with 1/2 ounce of lemon juice, and 3/4 ounce maple syrup and top it with a few ounces of your dry cider, for example. It’s like a drinkable version of a Robert Frost poem about fall.
Or, you can mash-up a French 75 and the Pink Lady, another classic gin cocktail that usually gets its (dry, boozy) apple flavors from apple brandy. In this iteration, shake an ounce of gin with 3/4 ounce grenadine and 1/2 ounce lemon and top this with 3 ounces of dry cider. You’ll get a surprising drink under whose pretty pink color lie nuances of flavor.
My favorite as of late, however, makes use of the markedly earthy notes of dry cider and plays them up by combining them with the herbal explosion of Chartreuse and the musky flavors of Cognac. It is a brashly self-confident yet sophisticated hybrid of a Last Word, a French 75, and a classic Champagne Cocktail. An apple drink that’s about as far from an appletini as you can possibly get.
1/2 ounce V.S.O.P. Cognac
1/2 ounce Yellow Chartreuse
1/2 ounce Luxardo maraschino liqueur
1/2 ounce lemon juice
Very dry sparkling cider, chilled
Photos by Emily Vikre