Mulled cider is a delicious and versatile drink known as a beautiful way to warm up and get festive during the holidays. But there's more to mulled cider than just sipping the beverage at holiday parties.
"[Mulled cider is] at least as old as mulled wine, and most likely originated out of the apples growing southwest of England," says Sebastian Hamilton-Mudge, a bartender and co-founder of recipe side Candra Drinks. "It is unfortunately far less commonly drunk than its more famous wine cousin, which is a shame because it is absolutely delicious and even more versatile."
What is mulled cider and when should you drink it?
"At its most simple, mulled cider is simply cider warmed through with mulling spices such as fresh ginger, cinnamon and clove, then served while still warm in a mug or cup," Hamilton-Mudge adds. "Its heat and spicy aroma warm both the body and the soul on any occasion."
However, the drink has so much more to offer. Like mulled wine or a Bloody Mary, it's a drink that screams to be modified and twisted into whatever your personal taste is. "Quite frankly, it's also too tasty to be limited to the festive period," says Hamilton-Mudge. "Drink it all the way through the winter, then when it comes to summer again, simply warm the mixture to impart the spices and chill the mixture and serve over ice as the best cooler you've ever had."
But even though mulled cider is something that can (and should) be enjoyed year-round, it is often pegged to the holidays. "It's getting to be the time of year when we start incorporating warm flavors and temperatures into our daily routines," says Sarah Clark, beverage director at The Dearborn, a tavern-style restaurant in Chicago, where she has a Gluhwein — a German style of mulled wine — made in-house seasonally. "One of the most comforting and delicious ways to do this is by warming cider and adding traditional mulling spices to the mix."
What are mulling spices?
Mulling spices are flavors like nutmeg, allspice (berries or ground), cloves, star anise, cinnamon, cardamom and peppercorns. "They may be added to a variety of beverages to incorporate layers of flavor, warmth and viscosity to your drink of choice," says Clark. "Mulled cider is a delicious option for the colder weather months."
Serving mulled cider is a great way to bring friends and family together. The aromas from mulling spices can evoke feelings of warmth, friendship, family and love. "It is a really simple way to give someone a 'hug from the inside,'" Clark adds. "You can also create a tasty alcoholic warm beverage by adding rum to the recipe."
Tips for making the best mulled cider
Toast your spices first
Whether you use a traditional stock pot on a stovetop or put the cider concoction into a slow cooker, you want to start the process by toasting your spices in the oven or in a pan on a stovetop. "This allows the oils, flavors and aromas to warm and open up, making them easier to incorporate into your liquid of choice," says Clark. "Be careful not to burn — just warm or toast them."
Never boil your liquid
After you toast your spices, add the cider and begin to heat it. It's very important to heat the cider to the point of a very low simmer with a little rolling steam, but again, do not not burn it. "Low and slow is key," says Clark. "While you are waiting for the cider to warm enough, freely stir it, blending the flavors of those tasty mulling spices."
Don't rush it
If you overcook the cider, the warm, yummy mulling flavors will be lost in a burned, terse flavor that is unrecoverable. "You will want to heat your cider, then maintain that low and slow cook for about an hour before serving it," Clark explains. "The longer you leave it on, the more it will really develop layers of flavor."
Add alcohol for an adult treat
"If you decide to spike your cider, the optimal time to do so is after you've allowed the cider and spices to marry well — maybe 20 - 30 minutes into the cooking process," says Clark.
While resting the cider over a nice, low heat, add in your spirit of choice. "Bring it up to a light simmer," Clark instructs. "Again, you do not want to cook this at a high temperature or the alcohol will actually cook off."
For cider, a great spirit to add is rum. "The properties of rum and cider are complementary to one another because of their sweetness, warmth and underlying flavors that are very like the mulling spices, naturally," says Clark.
Garnish with fresh fruit at the end
"I love to use fresh slices of orange and whole cranberries for color and contrast," says Clark, warning that, if you add these items too early, you will lose the color and body of the fruit, which are both important in the presentation of mulled cider or any beverage.
"The beautiful star anise should be floating to the top as well," she adds, "all giving a very festive display of colors and shapes."
Next, just ladle the cider into glasses, making sure you have a few of the pretty garnish fruits in each one for color.
The Dearborn's Mulled Cider
Courtesy of Sarah Clark, The Dearborn
2 whole nutmeg
20 allspice berries or 3 tablespoon ground allspice
8 star anise
8 cinnamon sticks
1 gallon apple cider
1 cup rum (optional)
2 small oranges, sliced for garnish
Whole cranberries, for garnish
Toast all spices first.
Making this recipe is pretty straightforward and simple. Just add in sliced fruit and dried fruit, add liquids and simmer for 3 to 4 hours. Then remove from heat and strain, return to pot and serve by ladling into glasses. No garnish needed, or add a fresh sliced orange.
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