A few years ago, I was approached by a scotch company to create a cocktail for an event in November. The problem was that, at least for me, there aren’t a ton of flavors that pair well with scotch. It’s big. It’s overpowering. It’s… scotch. But after racking my brain for a week or so, it hit me: If there’s one thing that pairs beautifully with sweet, smoky whiskey, it’s the earthy, sweet-and-sour flavor of fresh apple cider.
Better still, apples are as synonymous with autumn as football, leaves and sweaters. During the season they’re everywhere, from apple pie to candied apples to—what else?—apple cider. Nor are they a stranger to a drinks menu. Apple cider and apple juice have been used in American cocktails since the birth of our nation. In fact, if hard cider dosed with copious amounts of rum hadn’t fortified Ethan Allen and his band of militiamen, the Green Mountain Boys, on the eve of the raid on Fort Ticonderoga during the Revolutionary War, we might still be part of the British Empire.
Yet I had in mind a different drink from the one that fueled Colonial Americans. The term cider can be a little confusing. In Europe it refers to an alcoholic beverage—most often crisp and pale yellow—made from fermenting apple juice. That’s closer to what the revolutionaries mixed with their rum. But here in the States, the term usually refers to raw, cloudy nonalcoholic juice made from freshly pressed apples.
When most of us think about drinking cider around the holidays, we imagine heating up that fresh juice, maybe throwing in some spices and, if the occasion calls for it, spiking the mug with some whiskey. However, for this drink, I felt heat wouldn’t allow me to showcase the scotch, so I decided to serve it on the rocks. I built the cocktail around a cider made by a local grower instead of a national brand. The local stuff is fresher, more flavorful, richer and silky on the palate. And although I serve the drink cold, the scotch, amaro (an herbal Italian liqueur) and spice warm you, as the drink’s name indicates, like a flannel shirt in the fall.
1¾ oz. Highland Park 12-year scotch
1½ oz. fresh apple cider
½ oz. Averna amaro
¼ oz. lemon juice
1 tsp. demerara syrup*
½ tsp. St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake with cracked ice. Fine-strain over fresh ice in a chilled old fashioned glass and garnish with a strip of orange peel.
*To make demerara syrup, combine eight ounces (by weight) demerara sugar (similar to the Sugar in the Raw packets you get at good coffee shops) with four ounces water in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir until sugar is dissolved, remove from heat, bottle and chill.
Photo by David L. Reamer