Wow, three drink holidays in a row! I don’t think we’ve ever had that before! So far, we’ve drank ourselves silly on beer on Friday; sobered ourselves up with some strong coffee on Saturday…and today is your choice: enjoy a sweet autumn treat, or get trashed all over again! It’s National Hot Mulled Cider Day, which can be quite a few things. The direct definition of cider is that it’s an alcoholic beverage made from fruit juice, typically apple, which is fermented at low temperatures to keep the distinct fruity aroma of the juice. A hot mulled cider, then, is a cider that has been given three months to fully ferment, then spiced with mulling spices like cloves and cinnamon, and heated to make a wonderful fall drink–perfect for the kind of fall weather we’ve been having! When I studied abroad in London, I discovered my favorite alcoholic drink over there–hard cider! It had less alcoholic content than beer or wine, and they served it carbonated there, so it was like drinking a slightly boozy fruit soda. YUM. And the Brits definitely know how to drink over there: they sold cider in 2 (or even 3!) liter bottles right in the grocery store, sometimes for cheaper than actual Coca-Cola. I have yet to find an American equivalent that’s as cheap and delicious as British cider.
But that’s because here in America, “cider” doesn’t necessarily mean an alcoholic beverage. It could simply mean the spiced apple juice, processed in the way you would make hard cider, but without the fermentation and booziness. Apple cider differs from apple juice in that, after the apples are pressed to squeeze out their juices, it’s unfiltered and unsweetned, unlike the clarified, pasteurized apple juice you see in Mott’s juice boxes. So, apple cider tastes more natural, and can be made directly by apple farmers, or even by those at home! (Granted that you have something to squeeze all those apples with!) And hot apple cider is prepared just the same as hard cider–the cider is heated to just below boiling with a mixture of autumn spices blended in. It may not have the kick of a hard hot mulled cider, but to me, mulled apple cider–especially when purchased at the Union Square Greenmarket and sipped while fall veggie shopping–just screams autumn to me. You can always get your hot mulled cider fix right at the Greenmarket, but if you want to go all-out for your cider, try Recipe on the Upper West Side. They make their apple cider fresh and seasonally, so you know the apples are the best New York State has to offer. The hot mulled cider can either be virginal for a nostalgia kick, or with a shot of Jack Daniels added to the mix for a different kind of kick entirely. Recipe has a full brunch menu this morning and a great dinner menu that includes duck confit hash, short ribs, and pan-seared sea bass, so whether you stop here at the start of your day or your end, they’ll have the meal–and the hot mulled cider–for you.
452 Amsterdam Ave (between 81st St & 82nd St)
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“On a rainy, chilly evening, Recipe’s Big Apple Hot Mulled Cider with a healthy splash of Jack Daniels is like getting a big hug from Santa Claus.”–Ida C.
“What really made my morning, however, was the mulled apple cider. I got the “virgin” version, which was simply spiked with an orange slice, cinnamon stick and cloves, but I bet it would be fantastic with a little liquor added in.”–Erin L.
But the other type of boozy apple cider–cider that’s been allowed to ferment and make itself alcoholic–is way more popular and traditional in these parts. There’s no need to add liquor to a beverage that, with enough time, will make its own fragrant, delicious booze! An ancient, traditional English version of the hot mulled cider is called the Wassail, named after a drinking ritual intended to ensure a good apple harvest the next year. (Leave it to the English to make harvest predictions into a drinking ritual!) You can wish all the New York apple farmers good luck with a modern take on the Wassail from The Drink, a nautical-themed bar in East Williamsburg. Here, the apple cider is mixed with ginger and rum, giving it an extra spike of alcohol (call it extra special luck? lol!) You can buy it by the glass–which is, literally, served to you in a glass punch cup, little teacup handle and all–or order a whole punch bowl for you and your friends. And, to further stir up your autumnal spirits, The Drink serves their wassail warm, so it’ll warm up your bodies in more ways than one.
228 Manhattan Ave (between Maujer St & Grand St), Williamsburg
“Amidst the hustle and bustle of East Williamsburg lies nautically-themed The Drink. Specializing in punches, this one-year-young lounge is serving up a heated treat called a “Wassail,” a traditional winter drink served from the communal bowl. Here it’s served warm using spiced apple cider, tart apricot and cherry stomp, ginger, and either rum or bourbon.”–CBS New York
“You’ll have no trouble keeping your friends close when you’re all gathered around a punch bowl at this charming nautical venue. The communal concoctions ($43) serve up to ten people, with festive seasonal options like the Old Gunwhale (bourbon, grapefruit, chamomile syrup and cranberry bitters; $43) or the Wassail (hot spiced apple cider with rum or bourbon, $5 per glass).”–Time Out New York
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Last night, I made it there for the first time and think that this is going to turn into a very regular occurrence. As other reviewers have mentioned, the ambience is incredibly cozy and the bar smells AMAZING. I asked the bartender what the drink of the evening was and he said if we wanted to warm up, he’d recommend the wassail (Of course we want to warm up!) We took him up on that and they were totally delicious, totally strong and totally cheap.”–Adam W.
“Definitely the best-smelling bar in all of Williamsburg, due to the homemade rum punch and wassail on offer. Our very kind bartender also went so far as to bring bowls full of cinnamon bark and orange rinds over to the bar to enhance our olfactory experience.The other reviews here gave me the impression that this place is twee and precious, but that (happily) was not my experience. It’s extremely cozy and welcoming and there’s an old upright piano in one corner where a patron even banged out a few tuneful bars.”–Johnnie U.
While you can drink hot apple cider fresh from the press, or spice it and wait for it to ferment into some yummy hard cider, there are some other interesting things you can do with cider. Like, cook with it! One of the best treats in the autumn season, whether you’re visiting an apple orchard or just strolling through the Union Square Greenmarket, is apple cider doughnuts. Apples are cooked in the cider and made into a thin pureed sauce, which is then mixed into a doughnut pastry dough and deep fried. The apple cider sauce works as a moisturizer and binder to the dough, making the doughnut moist and fluffy, as well as giving it a deep spiced apple cider flavor. It’s one of the best ways to work with the by-products of apple cider making, so you get them a lot at orchards–freshly cooked and there for the taking! Elevate your apple cider doughnut experience at Hearth, where they make each doughnut dessert fresh when you order it, and cover it in a sticky sweet maple syrup glaze. It’s the best of fall’s natural indulgences: super sweet cider apples and maple syrup; how can you go wrong? At $11 per order, it’ll certainly set you back more than the handmade doughnuts at the Greenmarket, but if you’re already planning a dinner trip to Hearth (perhaps to also celebrate National Mushroom Month with their roasted hen-in-the-woods mushrooms?) they’re the perfect end to a hearty, exquisitely-crafted meal.
403 E 12th St (between 1st Ave & Avenue A)
“The sophisticated but kid-welcoming restaurant delivers its cider fried. Sticky-sweet apple cider doughnuts ($11 for two) sport a maple syrup glaze and are served with whipped cream on top and a side of apple compote.”–Time Out New York Kids
“As we progressed onto dessert, Patrick and I split the apple cider donuts with apple compote and maple whipped cream – Hearth’s signature dessert. And indeed, it should be. Just taking a bite of the warm donut (complete with an über thin crust and soft, pillowy crumb) with a smear of gently sweetened apple compote and whipped cream my mind went to “OMG…! to [brain went flat-line]” It was a roller coaster ride of euphoria. Words cannot express how awesome this dessert is. You just have to try it.”–The Wandering Eater
“A duo of crisp apple cider doughnuts fried to order and glazed with a sweet finish that shines under the dim glowing lights of Hearth. The dark fried, crackly surface crunch exposes a moist and light cake doughnut, with the cider element coming though clean and strong. To finish, a quenelle of smoky maple whipped cream atop fresh apple compote. Almost makes you wish fall would last all year long.”–Serious Eats
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“The desserts are also simple, but delicious. If it is on the menu, you must try the apple cider donuts. They were unbelievable. Served warm, right out of the fryer (?)/oven – they were glazed and delicious! the peach tart was refreshing and scrumptious as well.”–Emily W.
“Hearth is as homey as its name! You won’t be disappointed after eating their delicious food with a unique approach to familiar dishes. The menu changes seasonally and the ingredients are fresh and mostly local. I must say that the desserts are even better than the main courses — the apple cider doughnuts are to die for and the vanilla ice cream is spectacular. I would highly recommend going here for dessert if you’ve already eaten somewhere else or just want a tasty treat!”–J. R.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!