Drink

Cider Cocktails Make For Easy Summer Drinking

Whether it’s singing the praises of blue cheese, raising money for her local farmers market's food stamp program, or helping grow the hard cider industry, our cider blogger Michelle McGrath has worked in the food and beverage scene for a decade. Her ag roots go back further if you count selling stone fruit out of a pickup truck at the farmers market with her folks. In 2017, she became executive director of the trade association for the hard cider industry (United States Association of Cider Makers). She also oversees their annual conference, CiderCon®, the world’s premier industry-oriented cider event. McGrath’s blog examines all things cider—from what to pair it with, to how to serve, store, and mix it into cocktails and more. Read more of McGrath's blogs here.

“You HAVE to taste this cocktail,” I said to my colleague at a recent beverage conference in Los Angeles. It was a drink created by Darlene Hayes, author of Cider Cocktails: Another Bite of the Apple (Spotted Cat Press, 2015). It featured smoky mezcal, sweet hibiscus purée, and agave syrup, complex quinquina (aromatized aperitif wine), and sour prickly pear cider. Hayes called it the, Going a Bit Red in Oaxaca. In this case, the cider’s sour profile helped complete the flavor wheel of this complex-yet-refreshing cocktail. The garnish helped further evoke a Mexico vibe: Orange peel, cocoa nibs, and a delicate dusting of ancho chile dust. It was cocktail brilliance and something I could easily drink all summer long.

How do the cocktails on your menu typically reflect the seasons? Are they crisp and refreshing in summer? Warming and savory in the winter?  Bright and herbaceous in the spring? Hard cider can meet all those requirements and more—but it’s in summer when cider cocktails truly shine. 

What makes cider so versatile year round is the array of styles it comes in—dry, sweet, acid-driven, tannic, apple-forward, barrel-aged—to name a few. That’s the only caution I share when using cider in a cocktail: Be sure you’re familiar with the flavor profile before using it in a recipe. The range is truly vast. 

If there’s a particular fruit you want to feature, there exists a cider made with it, from pawpaw to cucumber and more. Hayes featured sour fruit cider in her cocktail with mezcal. Pairing a tart fruit cider with mezcal and tequila shows off one principle of great cider cocktails: cider as a mixer replacement. “A botanical-infused sour cider can stand in for a sour mix, providing a more complex sour element and brightening a cocktail's overall profile,” Hayes wrote in a cider cocktail guide she authored for the United States Association of Cider Makers. “An ice cider can add more depth than just using simple syrup when a sweet element is called for.”

My first cider cocktail was rhubarb cider, tonic, and gin. It was pink, balanced, simple, and refreshing. Another great summer gin and cider cocktail takes it a bit further: combine equal parts cranberry juice and a fruit-forward sweet rosé cider, with gin and lime juice. Prefer whiskey? Switch out gin for whiskey and orange juice for lime juice. These highlight another core cider cocktail principle: cider as a tonic/soda/Champagne replacement. This is a great way to feature cider without stepping too far outside of the bounds of customer familiarity. 

The right cider can also help convey a seasonal mood. Looking to conjure the tropics? Try pineapple cider and rum. Want to play off summer’s rosé trend? Feature a light pink-hued cider with gin, muddled berries, and lime. Aiming for a Southern mood for those especially steamy days? Combine peach cider and whiskey. 

One of the greatest opportunities for cider cocktails is to omit the spirit altogether and create a sessionable cocktail your customers can easily drink all day on your establishment’s patio. Marketing data tells us there’s a consumer trend toward lower-ABV, healthier drinks. Cider can help your cocktail menu satisfy that niche, and thanks to its crisp, refreshing, bubbly nature—it does so with the ease of a summer breeze. 

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