Cool fall nights, crisp Saturday and Sunday afternoons, and the ever-changing foliage of the landscapes always remind me of the enjoyment of coming home to a stovetop with a piping hot pot of hot apple cider.The aromas fill the house with the tartness that you only get from fresh apple cider, and of course the cinnamon sticks floating in the elixir add their own great aromas and flavors.
Hot apple cider, along with Oktoberfest beers, are some of my favorite things about the fall. Even though I know another horrific Minnesota winter is coming, hot cider soothes the coming pain and makes the moment that much better. Hot apple cider is great for the whole family, but we adults get the added pleasure of kicking it up a notchwith some great libations.
The classic addition is cinnamon schnapps.Phillips Cinnamon Schnappsis a Minnesota original. Developed by Minnesota native Ed Phillips, his family name makes some of the greatest cordials in the world. Their cinnamon is smooth and has great spicy cinnamon flavors. It is not the hot Jolly Rancher type! Add a couple ounces in your mug, pour six to eight ounces of hot cider, and stir with a cinnamon stick. Simple, but so good.
A few weeks ago I discussed America's oldest licensed distillery, Laird's. The father of our country, George Washington, fell in love with the famous Laird's Applejack.George even helped them get the first license! Laird's is still family-owned and has been making great Applejack and apple brandy since 1780. Their Applejack is 80 proof and really kicks up the apple flavors in your hot cider. I typically use only an ounce or so because of its higher alcohol content. The Applejack is a blend of apple brandy and distilled neutral spirits and is a little more mixable than the straight apple brandy. But both are magnificent and tasty.
As long as we are talking about centuries-old recipes and ideas, we should talk about Barenjager, a little-known honey liqueur from Germany. It is one my favorite unknown gems, made with pure honey and vodka and flavored with other secret spices. It adds a little sweetness and is thicker in texture than most liquor. But mixed with apple cider, you get a great blend of tartness and sweetness. It is surprisingly good — try it for an old-school taste!
A more modern flavor sensation is spiced rum. Captain Morganis the unquestioned leader in the category. It is one of the largest brands in the world and usually mixed with Coke. But I was screwing around one night and tried it with my wife's great hot cider. I was amazed at how the vanilla and cinnamon undertones form the perfect taste sensation with the steaming hot ciders. The warming temperature really enhances the aromas of both the spirits and the cider.
I love to use the entirety of my taste buds when trying something. Hold the steaming hot mug of cider under your nose. The whiffs of cinnamon, vanilla, and apple really combine in unique ways. The original Captain is great, but try the limited release 1671, which is aged in Spanish oak barrels for more body and smoothness. Only around for a short while, it is a new and great variation of Captain Morgan.
The last idea for great hot cider recipes is the newest trend in sprits. Flavored vodkais taking over the world. There is a flavor for virtually every taste. But in your hot cider, try the new Smirnoff Kissed Caramel. Caramel vodka seems wrong for various reasons, but in apple cider you get a great experience. Imagine yourself back in your youth when you would go to the store and see the fresh caramel apple with the stick — that is the amazing sensation you get when you mix a couple of shots of Kissed Caramel in your cider.
We only have a few weeks left to really enjoy the fruits of our great apple orchards. Try some of these great ingredients or make up your own — but always in moderation. Cheers!