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Not Your Granny’s Grog

closeup of glass of hot apple cider with cinnamon stick and apple garnish with bowl of drink in the background

Now that we’ve lost that summertime craving for rosé and icy cocktails, we’re starting to think about long walks outdoors in the crisp air and cozy nights around the fire. It’s only natural that as the seasons change, so do our cravings for different types of food and drink. While red wines make great cold-weather pairings with seasonal cheeses, meats, and harvest-themed meals, there are delicious alternatives made with local apple-based products and distillates that can warm your heart well into the frosty months ahead.

A fresh look at these cold weather inspired cocktails and pairings may just change your mind when it comes to warm drinks. These aren’t your Granny’s grog or sweet mulled wine, they’re modern takes on the classics.

Hudson Valley Harvest Cocktail

Last year while tooling around the markets of Berlin, I discovered a wonderful alternative to the heavily spiced, alcoholic hot wines that are often served at markets in the region. A local bartender had created a warm cocktail that mixed crisp cider with vodka, cinnamon, clove, and a hint of star anise. It was one of the best warm drinks I’d ever had.

I replicated this drink using locally-made spirits from Demarest Hill Winery & Distillery. Just like warm apple pie and Cheddar, this apple-based cocktail works well with hard, sharp cheese. Try it with 5 Spoke Creamery’s Crawford, a raw milk cloth-bound Cheddar, with sliced apples and candied pecans.

2 oz Demarest Hill Grain Vodka
4 oz Demarest Hill Cider Crystallina (sweet cider)
Apple slices, cinnamon, cloves, and star anise for garnish

Warm liquids over low heat. Fill heat-proof mug or glass, and garnish with apple slice, cinnamon, clove, and star anise. (This recipe can be batched for a large group. Simmer gently in crock pot on low.)

Best of Both Worlds

This cross between a hot-buttered cocktail and mulled cider is dangerously delicious. The spicy flavors in the Stoutridge Rye 75 whiskey keep it from being overly sweet. To wow your friends and family, serve it with mini grilled cheese sandwiches made with your favorite New York State Cheddar and thinly sliced apple. Be prepared to share this recipe, it’s a sure winner!

1 cup sweet apple cider
4 oz Stoutridge Rye 75
2 tbs unsalted butter, softened
1 tbs honey
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
Cinnamon sticks for garnish

In a small sauce pan over low heat, bring cider to a gentle simmer. In a small bowl, mix together the butter, honey, cloves, cinnamon, and ginger with a spoon until combined. Add the butter mixture to the cider, whisking just until it melts.

Remove pan from heat, whisk in the rye and serve immediately. Garnish with cinnamon sticks. If it starts to separate as it cools, stir to incorporate ingredients again.

Twist on a Classic

Nothing is more delightful than the aroma of slowly simmering spices. This hearty, warming drink is comfort in a glass. The vanilla extract brings a delicious depth to the drink, but substituting a splash of coffee or other sweet liqueur will yield a completely different (and equally as delightful) flavor profile. Don’t skimp on the butter! Use an Irish butter, or better yet, a local unsalted butter. Albany Distilling Company’s Quackenbush Amber Rum, made from Caribbean molasses and aged in whiskey barrels, works well in this recipe.

Pair this twist on a classic with goat cheese whipped with a bit of Crown Maple syrup and dusted with ancho chili powder. Pure heaven!

1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar
6 oz hot water
2 oz Quackenbush Rum
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground allspice
Pinch of salt
Cinnamon stick for garnish

In mixing bowl, combine butter, vanilla extract, sugar, spices, and salt. Beat until well combined.
In heat-proof glass or mug, combine rum with 2 tablespoons (1 oz ) spiced butter mixture. (Remaining butter can be stored in airtight container in refrigerator for future use.) Top with hot water and stir until ingredients are well incorporated. Garnish with cinnamon stick.

Teatime Tipple

While warm coffee drinks are classic, artisan teas are also becoming popular ingredients on the cocktail scene. Tea can be paired with cheese with great results. Like the classic pairing of apple brandy and Camembert in the Normandy region of France, Old Chatham Sheepherding Company’s Camembert sings when paired with this applejack and tea-based cocktail. Serve brown bread with apple butter on the side.

Harvest Spirits Cornelius Applejack spends two years aging in Bourbon barrels and gives this cocktail its spicy finish. For tea, try Harney & Sons Green Tea. (If you’re curious to experiment, their shop in Millerton, NY, offers 250 different varieties.)

2 oz Cornelius Applejack
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz honey
4 oz hot green tea
Dash of Fee Brothers Cardamom Bitters

Fill heat-proof mug or glass with first three ingredients. Stir well, then add bitters and tea.