Bartenders Tell Us The Best Spirits To Sneak Into Hot Apple Cider


The thought of cooler temperatures and eventual snowfall are daunting, scary facts that we all (CA and FL excluded) have to reckon with. But, it’s not all bad news. With dark, cloudy, chilly days comes a lot of warm, comfort food. It’s the perfect time of year to bundle up and throw some chili in the crockpot and finally binge watch Master of None. Don’t worry if you put on a little weight, this is sweatpants weather and you won’t need to fit into that speedini for at least six months.

One of the best ways to wash down all those carbs is with a nice mug of hot cider. If you’re sitting on your couch in adult footy pajamas watching Netflix, you’re going to want that cider hot and with an added boozy kick. Bartenders are just like us and we asked them what they add to their hot cider to stay cozy on cold evenings.

Gregory Westcott, bar manager at Hinoki & the Bird in Century City, California

“My favorite spirit to mix with hot cider is a nice aged rum. Zaya or Plantation integrate really well to make a delicious fall cocktail.”

Liz Senyak, bartender at Datz in Tampa

“Gin is great for hot cider cocktails. The fresh flavor profile of gin goes great with the sweetness of apple cider creating a nice crisp cocktail similar to the first bite of an apple. Gin is underutilized in hot cocktails since most bartenders go with a bourbon or whiskey. You’re always winning when your ginning.”

Anthony Barcza, general manager at Rx Boiler Room in Las Vegas

“I prefer Cognac. Due to its typical caramel, nut and vanilla flavors, it gives hot cider a caramel apple finish.”

Carlos Arteaga, GM/beverage director at Halifax in Hoboken, New Jersey

“Bourbon is great with cider because it’s made in smoked barrels, which pairs well with the sweet cider.”

Eva Kovacikova, head bartender at Zuma Las Vegas

“My favorite spirit to mix with hot cider are rye whisky, rum and mezcal. Rye whisky gives it a nice slow, spicy burn, while rum goes very well with spices like cloves and cinnamon. Mezcal on the other hand pairs very well with sweet and spicy cider and gives a smoky flavor to the cocktail.”

Rob Pate, owner of Péché in Austin

“In a hot cider, I like to mix in a bit of Fernet-Branca to give it the right amount of funk.”

Lucas England, beverage director at Mortar & Pestle in San Jose, California

“I think apple cider screams for more apple. My favorite is Applejack — an apple-flavored liquor historically made using freeze distillation, which was when the fall harvest would be left outside to freeze and distill during the winter. It’s now made by blending apple brandy with other spirits to create a funky apple liquor that’s aged like a bourbon.”

High-Grade Whiskey
Brad Manske, beverage director at ViewHouse Eatery, Bar & Rooftop in Denver

“My favorite liquor to mix in with cider, hot or cold, is a high-grade whiskey. Though, a quality cider cocktail is truly dependent on the use of a fresh cider, which can bring out the flavors in any high-grade whiskey. When you have a really fresh apple cider there is no better alcohol than whiskey to complement the sweetness. “

Ryan Autry, bar manager at The Blind Pig Kitchen + Bar in Santa Margarita, California

“I’ve yet to try Peach Brandy or Madeira wine in cocktails, but I can only imagine that those to ancient spirits would drink beautifully in a Cider cocktail. Add some pomegranate and cinnamon to the mix and you’re golden.”

Tuaca Liqueur
Ryan McGraw, bartender at Andrei’s Conscious Cuisine & Cocktails in Irvine, California

“Tuaca would be my preferred spirit with hot cider, then topped with whipped cream and a graham cracker-crusted rim. It tastes like hot apple pie, which is one of my favorite desserts. It’s a perfect after-dinner drink, especially during the cold winter months.”

Blended Scotch
Hemant Pathak, bartender at Junoon NYC

“For me, the earthy, spiced, sweet layers from DEWAR’S 12 Blended Scotch Whisky goes really well with hot apple cider. The touch of peat and fantastic barley malt from this scotch always brightens all the flavor in my cocktails. My last hot cider concoction includes DEWAR’S 12, homemade cinnamon syrup, lemon, hotel apple cider and orange essence.”

Johnny Livanos, beverage program director at Ousia in Hell’s Kitchen, NYC

“I love adding Rakomelo into hot cider. A classic Greek spirit, the honey cinnamon liquor is traditionally served warm in Greece, and adds all the right components to balance out the flavors of hot cider for a perfect warm fall cocktail.”