The Unexpected Liquor That Pairs Deliciously With Apple Cider

Hot drinks, spiked with a healthy serving of booze, are the perfect way to relax on a cold winter night. Often easy to batch, they're perfect for the cozy, social atmosphere of big holiday dinners and bonfire parties. But many seasonal drinks are unforgivingly rich, for example, egg nog, hot cocoa, and hot buttered rum laden with caramelized brown sugar. Even a simple spiked apple cider can feel heavy or cloying if it's loaded down with spices, sugar, and strong liquor. After a hearty holiday meal, you might find yourself craving something lighter.

Luckily, hot spiced cider is easy to adapt. Hundreds of variations exist, like twists on the traditional hot toddy, English yuletide wassail, and drinks flavored with pumpkin spice. Darker spirits like rum and bourbon are classics, but opting for a less traditional liquor can produce surprising results and invite new flavor combinations. A splash of frat party favorite Fireball adds a hint of cinnamon, or combine apple cider and tequila to make the Chimayó cocktail. But if you're looking for a more refreshing version of the traditional hot spiked cider, vodka works surprisingly well.

Why should you spike your cider with vodka?

While traditional dark spirits imbue cider with a deep warmth and dark flavor, vodka brings a lighter, more refreshing twist to the seasonal favorite. It's also the perfect drink for people who prefer Granny Smiths over Galas because cider spiked with vodka can be reminiscent of a tart green apple, especially when paired with the right combination of fruits or spices.

Part of the appeal of vodka is that it has a relatively neutral taste compared to dark spirits. But the slightly astringent note that it does have pairs surprisingly well with cider. Vodka adds the sharpness that brings in the taste of a crisp green apple and provides a subtle alcoholic kick without overwhelming the drink. This slight vodka taste pairs well with bright citrus flavors, like lemon or lime, and it complements ginger nicely, too. A popular ingredient in recipes that pair apple cider with vodka, ginger is perfect for adding a little seasonal spice without compromising the light flavor of the drink. Opt for fresh ginger root — it's full of zing and easy to add to cider. Just drop a little fresh ginger into a pot of cider and heat it until the flavor suits your tastes. 

Of course, apple cider and vodka work well in chilled drinks, too. Pair the combo with butterscotch schnapps for a caramel apple martini, or add a splash of cider to a traditional Moscow mule. Don't be afraid to step outside of traditional conventions — you might be pleasantly surprised.