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There's no sweeter remedy for chilled bones than a steamy cup of spiked cider. PDT's winter warmer is a carol to the wassail, a ceremonial, cider-based beverage mulled with citrus and spice. The historical English drink was traditionally consumed when wassailing—singing and drinking at orchards to awaken the cider apple trees and ward off spirits, in hopes of a bountiful fruit harvest.
For his wassail base, PDT head bartender Jeff Bell reaches for Breezy Hill Orchard's Hudson Valley Cider. He simmers the cider with orange and lemon juice, cloves, cinnamon sticks, and ground nutmeg and ginger. After fine straining and cooling, Bell spikes the wassail with V.S.O.P. Armagnac before storing it in the refrigerator.
The rich, toasty brandy was in fact Bell's muse for the cocktail. "I wanted to make a warm, Armagnac-based drink. I love its apple orchard notes, which work well with spices," said Bell.
When it's time to serve, Bell warms up the wassail and adds Kronan Swedish Punsch for some extra funk and sweetness. Made with spiced sugar cane spirits from the East and West Indies, the liqueur adds a welcome layer of toffee-coffee warmth.
A touch of St. Elizabeth's allspice dram brings it all together. "I like to incorporate spices throughout the drink," explains Bell, "rather than drying out the mouth with a lot ground spice on top. This way it's less astringent; cleaner."
The sum of the parts is comforting but not heavy. While baked apples and spice jump out at you, the orange juice—which often hijacks a drink—provides a lovely, sunny undercurrent.
It's the kind of drink you might want to take with you on a chilly walk in the park or a round of caroling in the neighborhood. And despite what it seems, this winter warmer is relatively light in alcohol: "With the heat, the alcohol vapors come up in your nose, so warm cocktails will seem stronger than they are," notes Bell.