This time of year, a favored drink special of many bartenders is a cocktail that evokes the taste of warm apple pie. Or at least, it's supposed to taste like apple pie. More than a few I've had these days taste like nothing more than apple juice spiked with Red Hots candies. Or they go the other way and taste like everything that goes into an apple pie except the apples.
What's a devoted cocktailian to do? I went into the Last Call secret lab and devised my own. The ideal apple pie cocktail has to be more involved than just dumping a shot of Fireball into a glass of apple cider. On the other hand, if I come up with some elaborate formula involving 10 ingredients including homemade syrups and bitters, nobody is ever going to make one but me. Just like any good cocktail, this is all about balance.
The base of the drink is apple cider. It's important to pick one that is as close to fresh-picked apples as possible. If you can get your hands on unpasteurized, fresh-pressed cider, you're golden. If the effort is a little much for you, at the least steer clear of shelf-stable clear apple juice. It doesn't bring much to the party other than neutral sweetness.
I knew from from my initial tasting that cinnamon liqueur had to play a part. It doesn't matter much whether you use Fireball, Goldschläger, or even old standby Hot Damn; the main difference between them is the proof. Fireball is weakest at 66 proof, Goldschlager clocks in at 87, and Hot Damn is a whopping 100. Beyond that, the only real difference is marketing. I'm partial to Goldschläger, but this is largely because I'm drawn to shiny objects like the flakes of 24-karat gold leaf in it. However, it can't be the main player; the liqueur's cinnamon candy flavor has to be kept in check.
I tried several possible base spirits. One would think that all-American applejack brandy would be the best choice (all the better to bolster the apple flavor, right?), but I found that the toasty vanilla notes of dark rum best paired with the apple cider. Feel free to experiment; applejack is still mighty tasty, and I'll bet bourbon would also be a tasty choice.
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A drink made out of just these three ingredients is mighty tasty. But we can do even better. A common ingredient in apple pie is lemon juice. Sure enough, a little lemon juice in here adds a welcome bright element. Angostura bitters adds subtle, spicy complexity. Last, I took a page from my nascent days as a tiki bartender, and added a few drops of allspice dram. You can certainly leave it out if you don't feel like tracking down the elusive (and expensive) spirit, but it works beautifully here. If you use the allspice dram, be careful; a little bit goes an insanely long way.
Apple Pie Cocktail To serve warm, use 6 ounces of cider. Heat the apple cider to almost boiling. Add the other ingredients, stirring to combine. Serve in mugs. For added flair, dip a red-hot fireplace poker into the drink just before serving. 1 ounce cinnamon liqueur 1 ounce dark rum ¼ ounce allspice dram 1 dash Angostura bitters ½ ounce lemon juice 4 ounces apple cider
Build in a tall glass over ice. Stir to combine. Garnish with a lemon wedge and/or apple slice.