Cider offers a creative way to add robust fruit flavors into mixed drinks, and is especially ideal for the fall season. Mixologists use cider to add crispness and viscosity to cocktails, and pair it with a wide range of spirits, from rum and whiskey to vermouth and vodka, proving its versatility behind the bar. While many consumers are unfamiliar with cider’s cocktail applications, bartenders say their adventurous guests enjoy the surprises that cider can bring to drinks. “Cider, in general, is not a go-to choice for many of our patrons,” says Caitlin Contreras, a beverage consultant and bartender at Astoria, Oregon’s Triangle Tavern. “So I try to find unique ways to showcase cider in cocktails. My patrons look forward to daily specials and have been much more curious than expected about cider as a cocktail ingredient.”
Contreras puts a cider cocktail on the specials menu every week, and plans to push them more for fall. Some of her more popular cider creations include the Apricot Bourbon Smash ($12), made with Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Avid Apricot cider, honey, lemon juice, and muddled mint, and the Pineapple Basil Fizz ($10), blending Tito’s vodka, Ace Pineapple cider, house-made basil simple syrup, soda water, and muddled basil. “I love using dry, tart ciders to build layers of flavors that aren’t cloyingly sweet, and then I showcase fruitiness more organically,” Contreras explains. “Ciders give a crisp effervescence to drinks and can add a fruit-forward element without a load of syrup, sugar, or acidity. I like to pair cider with warm and crisp flavors, and also with fresh botanicals. When working with cider, I find myself drawn to ingredients like Bourbon, bitters, basil, ginger, mint, and sage.”
While cider is definitely seasonal for fall, Contreras adds that it can be a great year-round cocktail ingredient. In some bars, adding cider into mixed drinks helps bridge a gap between beer drinkers and cocktail enthusiasts, expanding the reach for both. Indeed, Contreras notes that at Triangle Tavern, the cider drinks attract a variety of guests. This is also true at Travel Bar in Brooklyn, New York; co-owner and beverage director Mike Vacheresse says his cider cocktail drinkers span a wide range of demographics. Vacheresse makes his own ginger cider mixture by simmering New York-made Red Jacket apple cider with fresh ginger. He uses that as a base in cocktails like the Ringo Shoga ($13), which also includes Very Old Barton 6-year-old Kentucky Straight Bourbon and Lazzaroni amaretto, and the Fall Classic Cocktail ($13), which comprises Scarlet Ibis rum, Regans’ No. 6 Orange bitters, and house-made cinnamon syrup in addition to the ginger cider. These drinks are served over ice and are available year-round, joining a roster of 35 specialty cocktails and more than 450 sipping whiskies.
“I started using cider in cocktails in the early 2000s, and people were generally in awe,” Vacheresse explains. “The popularity of cider cocktails is growing, and people are used to seeing them on menus. Cider gives drinks viscosity, and it takes a familiar taste and turns it on its head. When I make a cider cocktail, I’m not looking to create a conventional taste like apple pie or baking spices in the drink. I try to play off the base spirit. I’m using rum and whiskey now, but I’ve also used vermouth, Calvados, brandy, and aperitifs.”
Cider gains ground as an ingredient in warm cocktails as winter approaches, but Vacheresse likes to stay away from that, choosing instead to emphasize cold cider drinks throughout the year. He says Travel Bar has struggled through the Covid-19 pandemic, but adds that he has a solid base of regular customers and offers outdoor seating, as well as batched cocktails to-go. “I want to push cider into new arenas,” Vacheresse says.