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Weekend Cocktail: Bourbon Cider

The Christmas season arrives earlier and earlier each year. It’s enough to drive a man to drink.

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I was driving around town the weekend after Halloween, just a few days into November. The windows were down; the cool air and bright sun meant I was quite comfortable in a light jacket. Seeking to take full advantage of such glorious weather, I decided to put something obnoxious and loud on the radio. Naturally, I turned to one of the local pop music stations, expecting to get a dose of easily-digestible adolescent dreck with a decent beat. Aural junk food, perfect for the sort of aimless driving I enjoy.

Instead, Perry Como came on to tell me there’s no place like home for the holidays.

My reaction was immediate, and violent. With the sort of reflexes that only come to us in fight-or-flight situations, I jabbed the preset button to take me to the other pop station, but there would be no respite there. To my dismay I was confronted with a tortured, overwrought rendition of “O Holy Night.” At this point I was too dispirited to continue my search for mindless filler, and turned off the radio altogether. I rode in silence, with nothing but the humming of my tires on the road to keep me company. Too late; the earworm had burrowed in snugly. It took hours for me to stop pining for the sunshine of a friendly face.

Christmas had come too early, once again.

Every year, Christmas seems to resume its inexorable sprawl to earlier and earlier in the calendar. You may have noticed that your local malls and departments stores have already festooned themselves in the colors of the season. Not the season we’re actually still occupying, mind you. They aren’t fall colors we see decorating our commercial hubs. There’s nary an orange or brown leaf, nor a turkey, nor bountiful cornucopia to be found. No, our friends in advertising and retail have done their usual leapfrog of Thanksgiving, instead providing us with two solid months of consumerist twaddle and a thin veneer of commodified, “Christmas-like” sentiment. The ultimate goal of all this red and green sparkly decor, and the nonstop holiday music? Spend, little puppet, spend.

This should distress the Christian and the non-Christian alike. Whatever broad cultural feelings of warmth and togetherness may be engendered by the holiday season are smothered by the pervasive, crassly material screeching of the marketing harpies. Peace on earth and goodwill to men? Not after the fifth time in a day you’ve heard Yoko Ono wailing like a banshee that “War is Over.”  Although upon reflection, I do find Lennon’s question apropos: So this is Christmas – and what have we done?

It’s enough to drive a man to drink. I stand by the old wisdom that “to everything there is a season,” and it is wisdom that should not be discounted lightly. There’s so much to anticipate and enjoy in November without the constant reminders that we are expected to run up our credit card buying cheaply-made gifts for ungrateful children who will never send us a thank-you note.

Celebrate Thanksgiving. Don’t let them steal this season away from you. I have something that may help.

Bourbon Cider

Spiced cider is delicious all on its own, and bourbon is a toothsome marker of civilizational progress. Separately, they are perfect drinks for fall. But something special happens when you mix the two together. A hot fortified cider is – I am convinced – not merely tonic for a chilled body, but a chilled soul. It may revive the dwindling faith in humanity, decency, and goodness so commonly experienced at the approach of winter and dinners with the extended family.

The following is a recipe for a cider that seems uniquely suited to warming your bones. The fun thing about recipes like these (besides the tasting) is the chance you have to build on them. Like more spice? Go a bit heavier. Need more heat on the tongue? Add more cinnamon. Your bourbon choice may also have a pronounced effect, making it sweeter or adding more bite.

You’ll need:

  • 4 cups spiced apple cider
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 3 whole cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
  • Whole peel of a large orange (retain some to use as a garnish)
  • Whole peel of a lemon
  • 2¼ cups bourbon

You read that right. That’s two and a quarter cups of bourbon. Naturally, you’re not going to want to use your reserve unless you are particularly fond of the people with whom you’re (hopefully) planning to share. I used Buffalo Trace, but you could also try Bulleit.

To begin, add the cider, orange and lemon peels, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice to a saucepan or pot. Heat until it reaches a low boil, then reduce and allow it to simmer for close to five minutes. Remove from the heat and let the mixture sit for 10 minutes to steep. Strain the hot cider to remove any throat-sticking flotsam which might imperil your enjoyment. Add the bourbon. Glug-a-lug.

You can pour this into any sort of container, from humble teakettle to ornate punch bowl, depending on who you think you’re trying to impress. I tossed in a few slices of orange to float on top. The cider should be served warm in tea cups, mugs or hot toddy glasses, with a little twist of orange peel and a dash of nutmeg.

It’s spicy and citrusy, with an expansive warmth that went right to my fingertips – and after the second mug, right to my head. The drink is assertive, but smooth and sweet. The bourbon makes its presence felt and isn’t lost in the mix.

Adjust the recipe to your tastes, and you may just have the makings of a family tradition that will carry you into many a holiday season.

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