Two Easy Fall Cocktails That Are Better Than Mulled Cider

Tired of cocktail recipes that call for expensive, obscure bottles and fancy-pants techniques? We got you. Welcome to Happy Hour with Al, a monthly column where Al Culliton, Basically’s resident bartender, sets you up to get the most bang for your booze with the fewest possible bottles.

Sometimes here at Happy Hour with Al, we give you a break from shaking and stirring with an easy concept for a boozy get-together at your place. Today, we’re making a couple drinks that would’ve been available in taverns 250 years ago because a) they’re super simple, and b) they’re very much in the fall spirit—with dark spirits, cider or beer, and warming spices like ginger and nutmeg.

But first, a little history. Back in the 1700s, the tavern was a massively important institution. It served the public as a bar, restaurant, post office, court of law, trading post, and, as you may or may not remember from high school history class, a place for plotting revolution against tyrants. Patrons drank straight beer, cider, or liquor, but by the end of the eighteenth century, many of their favorite beverages were mixed drinks. These were often mixtures of beer or cider and spirits, like rum and brandy, plus a combination of citrus, sugar, spices, and/or eggs. They were what I’d call “proto-cocktails”: They weren’t in the category of modern cocktail, which was born sometime around 1800, but their existence presaged the rise of the great American cocktail.

Lucky for us, all of these ingredients are widely available today, which means we can recreate them without having to track down any elusive ingredients. And I’ve got to say, this spread is a lot more original than mulled cider or wine.

So here’s the idea: Put beer and cider on ice and set it on the table along with a bottle opener, rocks and/or Collins glasses, lime juice and wedges, ginger-honey syrup (I’ll tell you how to make that below), nutmeg (don’t forget a Microplane), and a bottle of rum or brandy. Everybody can help themselves and get lost in the fall spirit with as much ginger, nutmeg, and rich flavors their hearts desire. We advise that you and your guests start with the two colonial-era recipes below—namely, the Stone Fence and the Rattle-Skull—but if you’re adventurous, try your hand at some different combinations.

Let’s get started.

Photo by Chelsie Craig

Your Shopping List

  • 1 bottle of aged rum and/or good brandy (Don’t skimp on this! Bad brandy is really bad! Look for Pierre Ferrand Cognac or the California brandies Bentwing or Bertoux)
  • 1 six-pack porter ale (Founder’s is very good and widely available)
  • 4 cans good, dry hard cider (I use Shacksbury)
  • Honey
  • Ginger
  • 8 limes
  • 1 whole nutmeg

The Prep:

We’re going to make a quick ginger-honey syrup. (It’s not that hard, I swear! Oh, and you don’t need ginger syrup and limes for the Stone Fence so, if you’re feeling thirsty already, fix yourself one of those while you prep!)

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