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Young saplings at the Eden Ice Cider orchards.

When most people think about cider, they tend to think of the fall; harvesting apples alongside squash and other autumnal produce while the leaves change. But cider is much more than a seasonal beverage—as we turn to stronger drink in these colder months, there are many ciders and other apple-based potables perfect for sipping by a roaring fire.

We're declaring 2013 the year of the apple; here are a few ways to kick things off right.

Strong Ciders

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Most ciders tend to cap out right around 7% alcohol—about the same as your average hoppy IPA—but there are a few that climb into the 10% or even 12%. These big ciders tend to bring bigger flavors, a longer finish, and a noticeable hint of alcohol. The end result is a cider more suited for a snifter than a pint glass—the ideal cure for winter's bite. Note that some state laws limited the alcohol level of cider so these bottles are often sold as Apple Wine. If you like your cider with a bit of sparkle, then make sure it is sealed with a cap or champagne cork. A traditional wine cork usually signifies a still, uncarbonated bottle.

One To Try: While there are many regional strong ciders, Angry Orchard's Strawman is the perfect winter warmer and available nationally. It's a bracing cider, with a perceivable boozy warmth and earthy apple quality. Time spent aging in oak lends a lingering finish worth savoring. I highly recommend this cider alongside a good slice of cheesecake.

Ice Cider

Eden Ice Cider

Take all of the rich, orchard flavors in your favorite pint of cider, condense them into three ounces of liquid gold and you have Ice Cider, the frozen North's answer to dessert wine. Ice Cider is produced by slowly freezing out a portion of the water in a fermented cider and then draining off the remains for a flavor-packed, sweet, still drink clocking in around a 10% ABV. A relatively new beverage, Ice Cider was first produced commercially around 1990 in Quebéc. But since then, the American community has caught on, particularly in Vermont where Ice Cider is ubiquitous in cocktails and on the dessert menus of finer restaurants.

One To Try: Leading the American Ice Cider trend is Vermont's Eden Ice Cider. This year, we're big fans of their Champlain Orchards Honeycrisp, a delicate drink that conjures up freshly-picked fall apples. A nice, tart finish helps balance the sweetness and pairs well with flaky pastries or washed rind cheeses.

Pommeau

Traditions

Originally a french apéritif, Pommeau has been slowly finding favor among American cider makers and distillers alike. Take two parts unfermented apple juice and one part apple brandy, age them in oak (French law requires a minimum of 30 months but America has no regulations on the timing) and the result is a deep mahogany drink with the boldness of a spirit but the sweetness and body of a cider. A great Pommeau drinks like a cross between a dessert wine and an cocktail and is welcome at the end of any hearty meal.

One To Try: The smoothest American Pommeau I have had by far is made by Oregon's Traditions Ciderworks. Produced from local bittersweet apples and blended with Clear Creek Apple Eau de Vie, the Pommeau features a solid oak backbone from a year in French Oak. The final drink is bold, but refined, with big fruit up front and a long finish.

Eau de Vie de Pomme

Clear Creek

Eau de Vie refers to a distilled color-less brandy made from anything other than grapes. The fruit—apples in the case of an Eau de Vie de Pomme—are pressed, fermented, distilled, and quickly bottled for a full 80 proof spirit that merely hints at its apple roots. The nuances of brandy can be difficult for the uninitiated but replacing cognac with Eau de Vie de Pomme in your favorite cocktail is a great place to discover the difference.

One To Try: While Eau de Vie is traditionally un-aged, I prefer those mellowed in oak. My favorite is Clear Creek's Eau de Vie de Pomme which rests for 8 years in French oak. The final spirit hints at apple and citrus with a defined woody note. Drink this one on its own with an ice cube or in a cocktail with your favorite amaro.

About the author: Christopher Lehault is a New Jersey-based cider journalist, craft beer documentarian, and home brewer. Follow his cider adventures on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter.

All bottles were provided as press samples for review consideration except the Clear Creek Eau de Vie de Pomme.

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