When a chill starts to creep into the air, a hot cider drink is just what’s needed to warm fingers and toes. Opt for off-dry or sweetened ciders to build these toasty sippers, or stick to nonalcoholic sweet cider and save the bone-dry sparklers to enjoy another time.
This warming drink is ideal for cool-weather gatherings that are moving in as harvest passes and the holidays get closer and closer. For the sweet apple cider, stretch for an orchard-fresh jug at the farmers market or a higher-end grocer. At home, serve the Gather ‘Round Punch in a teapot, or ladle into mugs directly from a large saucepan simmering on the stove — or Instant Pot or crockpot, if that’s how you roll. Away from home, pour into a thermos to help keep toes warm during a wassail.
Gather ‘Round Punch
8 allspice berries
2 cinnamon sticks
4 cups sweet apple cider
2 cups brandy*
4 ounces (½ cup) honey
Garnish: 8 lemon half-wheels
Place the allspice berries and cinnamon sticks in a square of cheesecloth and secure with kitchen twine, creating a spice sachet.
In a large saucepan, combine the remaining ingredients (except the garnish) over medium heat. Stir until the honey dissolves, then add the spice sachet. Cover the pot, lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir. Discard the spice sachet.
To serve, ladle into glass mugs and garnish each drink with a lemon half-wheel floated on top.
*NOTE: This versatile drink works with a wide range of spirits, so raid the liquor cabinet to see what’s on hand. Our first pick is a grape-based brandy: Try an American brandy like Bertoux or a French brandy like a VS or VSOP Cognac, but save pricey pours for sipping straight. Other brown spirits such as apple brandy, applejack, bourbon or aged rum also play well with honey and spice.