By Jen Wofford
Summer’s mojitos and citrus-squirted hefeweizens are a distant memory. The Indian summer with its chilled sparkling ciders, Oktoberfest beers and sweet iced wines has also passed on. But after only a moment of silent despair, the lilt of the region’s hot toddies rises above the din of snowplows and salt trucks. Yield to the warm scents of cinnamon, cloves and caramelized sugar with a collection of hot drinks that focus on what the Finger Lakes does best: apples, grapes and bourbon. Let’s embrace the season.
Whether served virgin or mixed with rum or whiskey, hot cider has its heyday as early as September. The best ciders emerge from a combination of several apple varieties and the flavors shift with the weather, from tart early on to the sweet, mellow flavors that mature only after the first frost. Mulling spices—if you choose to use them—can be mixed at home and gathered in cheesecloth or purchased, pre-packed for steeping, in tea bags or spice balls. Skip the spices to educate your palate on the subtle variations that span the harvest season.
Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards in Lafayette serves mulled hot cider in its cafeteria. as soon as the weather turns and offers its mulling spice mix for sale. (They also sell six kinds of hard cider and apple vodka at the new Beak & Skiff Distillery.) Leubner Apple Farm in Jordan offers hot, unmulled cider on the weekend. Kelly’s Farm Market in Hilton serves hot cider, but keeps their mulling recipe under wraps—you’ll have to visit for a taste. For a take-home version, Schutt’s Apple Mill in Webster ladles up hot mulled cider samples and sells more than 100 spices, including a mulling mix of nearly a dozen spices, packaged at the mill. June and Dennis Ouellette, owners of Ontario Orchards, use a recipe shared with them 40 years ago by the folks who made their apple press.
To keep visitors on the wine trails year-round, Finger Lakes vineyards move their tastings inside come cold weather; they fire up their wood stoves, plug in their slow cookers, and pull out the spices. Check out Glenora Wine Cellars in Dundee (Jammin’ Red); Lucas Vineyards in Interlaken (warm Tug Boat Red); and Atwater Vineyards in Burdett (a warm, mulled combination of its Sweet Chancellor and Sweet Catawba) through Valentine’s Day. Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards heats it up with apple wine. Their Gala wine—with a spicy finish perfect for mulling—won the silver medal at the Eastern International Wine Competition in Philadelphia in 2008. To mull, heat lightly in a crock, pan or stoneware pitcher. Do not boil. Use the same mulling spices as with cider: cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, ginger and a hint of citrus peel.
Cayuga Ridge Estate Winery in Ovid also serves a hot mulled wine using the French hybrid Chancellor grape. With their low tannins and rich complex berry character, Chancellor wines blend well with cider and cinnamon.
Old Time Hotties
Old-school hot toddies are hard to come by in Upstate New York. Perhaps simple Bourbon at room temperature is enough to do the trick for the truly cold-blooded.
In a tradition that’s older than America—and one we’ve convinced ourselves is purely medicinal—some bartenders are willing to heat it up. Just add two or three parts boiling water to Finger Lakes Distilling Bourbon. Add a squeeze of lemon and some brown sugar, and your troubles melt away.
Try these simple recipes at home to get started.
Ontario Orchard’s Hot Mulled Cider