5 Ways to Add Apples to Your Cocktails

From October to late May, those of us in the northern parts of the United States don’t have much in the way of local, fresh fruit – a staple of cocktail menus during the summer months.

But we do have apples, and sometimes pears, from sweet Cameos to tart, juicy Granny Smiths.

Local orchards put their harvests into cold storage or even controlled-atmosphere facilities, so they stay crisp and juicy all winter long – until strawberries and other seasonal goodies come back around in late spring.

Horizontal image of three glasses filled with a juice on a wooden table.

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Winter is a great time to refocus on these ubiquitous fruits, which tend to be eclipsed by pumpkin as the flavor of fall and imported citrus as it comes into season in midwinter.

While the number of varieties available from local orchards will dwindle as the season goes on, most orchards plan to keep a good half-dozen long-keeping varieties around for as long as they can – from crisp eating varieties like Pink Lady to cooking types like Stayman Winesap and versatile varieties like Jonagold.

Storing a good variety of sweet and tart varieties also allows orchards and fruit farmers to keep pressing fresh cider all winter, too. And if you’re lucky, some of those orchards will process their apples even further into hard cider.

Where I live in Philadelphia, local orchards-turned-cideries are experimenting with dry, off-dry, and hopped varieties. These are available at farmers markets, and bars and restaurants in the city.

But boosting your beverages with apple flavor doesn’t mean that you always have to start with booze – there are plenty of opportunities for creating both alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks!

Here are five suggestions for adding apples to your beverages, ideas you can use not only during the fall and winter months, but also throughout the whole year!

5 Ways to Add Apples to Your Cocktails

  1. Fresh Cider
  2. Hard Cider
  3. Infused Booze
  4. Fruit Syrup
  5. Shrub

Prep those pommes, and let’s make a drink together!

1. Fresh Cider

The simplest way to get that pure, unabashed apple flavor into your evening happy hour routine is to add cider, the fresh-pressed, unfiltered, and ideally unpasteurized juice of a mixture of sweet and tart fruit.

Horizontal image of two glasses filled with a cocktail on a wooden table next to fall pommes.

If you own a juicer – or maybe you’re lucky enough to own a cider press – you can make your own fresh cider, ideally using a mixture of different local eating varieties.

But if you live in a community among local farms, there should be a steady supply of premade options sold in your area during the peak seasons of fall and winter.

A fresh product that’s minimally processed – that is, unpasteurized or UV pasteurized – will have the best flavor. But you can use a pasteurized version as well.

The watery, sugary flavor of bottled apple juice evokes kindergarten snack time more than happy hour, but a good-quality shelf-stable juice that is organic and has minimal or no sugar will be perfect.

Read below for three different ideas on how you can use this fresh cider in your beverages.


A combination of fresh cider and assorted spices is a comforting option to make, served hot or cold.

And it’s easy to add a little booze, too, for the adults!

Bourbon, whiskey, and dark rum all work well. Or you can double down on the apple flavor with some apple brandy. New Jersey-made Laird’s is a must where I live, but Calvados works too.

If you’re heating it, be sure to add the alcohol after you’ve taken the mixture off the stove so that you don’t burn off too much of your precious alcohol.

Apple cider being poured into a large mason jar that already contains caramel sauce.
Photo credit: Raquel Smith

Caramel Apple Cider – Get the Recipe Now

Heat the liquid with your favorite combo of warming spices. And you can also include other ingredients for a sweeter touch – we love our recipe for slow cooker caramel apple cider, mixed with caramel sauce and a shot of bourbon.

And directly before serving, be sure to garnish with an apple slice on the side of the rim!

Just soak it briefly in water with a splash of lemon juice added before garnishing your drink, to help preserve that white flesh and keep it from turning brown.


If you prefer a drink that has effervescence, it’s easy to craft a cocktail with plenty of bubbles!

For a sparkling drink that’s light, lovely, and quick to make, first fill a tumbler half full with ice. Add half an ounce of apple brandy, then fill the glass two-thirds full with fresh cider. Add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice or a dash or two of bitters, top with seltzer, and stir.

Image of the Hella Bitter brand of citrus bitters.

Hella Cocktail Company Citrus Bitters

For this recipe, I would recommend using the Citrus Bitters from Hella Cocktail Company, which is based in New York. Buy a bottle now from Mouth.


If you’re entertaining a crowd, fresh cider makes a great base for a fall or winter seasonal sangria served in a large pitcher or bowl!

Start with half a gallon of cider in a large punch bowl. Add the juice of two lemons and one bottle of dry white wine like Pinot Grigio or a rose to taste.

For something sweeter, a white Zinfandel will also work well.

For the garnishes, mix in cubes of one red and one green or golden apple as well as a finely sliced lemon.

2. Hard Cider

For another grown-up take on cider, start with the kind that’s already boozy and carbonated.

Horizontal image of a wine glass filled with a cocktail on burlap next to a bottle, fresh fall fruit, and whole spices.

There are plenty of hard cider options to purchase – you can find many sweet varieties, but dry, off-dry, or semi-dry varieties won’t taste so sugary.


To create a cool cocktail with a base of hard cider, take a tip from the beer world and be inspired by a shandy.

Blend dry cider and a strong, spicy ginger beer like Reed’s Ginger Brew in equal parts. Start with a small amount of each, and taste to adjust the right balance between dry, sweet, and spicy.

You can also try other shandy combinations: Apple brandy or your favorite sherry are good places to start.

Using a sweeter base? Blend with a dry white wine. This will also result in a boozier shandy.

Using something dry? Start with two parts dry hard cider to one part fresh to taste the full spectrum of apple flavor.

3. Infused Booze

If you have a few weeks to wait around, you can infuse hard alcohol with your own apple flavor and custom spices.

Place sliced sweet-tart apples, like Jonagold, in a quart jar.

Add whole spices if you like – think a cinnamon stick, a few cloves, an allspice berry, or a one-inch piece of fresh ginger.

Vertical image of a pitcher and a glass of sangria on a table with a napkin and cinnamon sticks.

Pour in vodka, grain alcohol like Everclear, bourbon, or whisky so that the fruit is fully covered.

Seal the jar and stash it in a cool, dark place like your cupboard, closet, or pantry for anywhere from a few weeks to up to six months. Taste the infusion periodically and strain it when the flavor is to your liking.

Serve your infusion over ice with simple syrup or maple syrup to taste.


To make your infused liquor into a tasty cocktail, you’ll need just a few more ingredients.

After icing and sweetening with simple syrup, add a splash of Frangelico, a squeeze of lemon, and top with seltzer – I like to call this one my apple pie spritzer!

4. Fruit Syrup

If you find yourself processing lots of fruit for a pie, sauce, or fruit butter recipe, keep in mind that you can use your peels and trimmings to make a fruit syrup with a bright and punchy flavor.

This is a smart technique to save and repurpose your scraps to reduce food waste!

Horizontal image of a glass filled with infused water with slices of fruit on a brown napkin next to cinnamon sticks.

The process will be similar to making a flavored simple syrup.

Combine equal parts by volume of apple peels, water, and brown or white sugar in a saucepan.

Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for one to two minutes until just slightly thickened.

Cool, strain, and bottle, then store in the fridge.

Add an ounce or two to any cocktail recipe that could use a burst of sweetness and apple flavor, or make your own apple soda by combining the syrup and seltzer to taste over ice.

Read more advice on stocking your home bar with other ingredients you have on hand!

5. Shrub

To preserve that flavor with a little more zing, try making an apple shrub.

Shrubs, also known as drinking vinegars, are a combination of vinegar, sugar, and fruit. And they make for a bracing, sweet-tart addition to alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks.

There are two ways to make a shrub. One involves combining and heating the ingredients, then straining the mixture. The other way is to cold-infuse the ingredients together, resulting in a brighter, more flavorful shrub.

Horizontal image of a wine glass filled with a cocktail garnished with fresh fruit slices on a brown napkin on a wooden blue table.

To make a shrub using the cold method, remember the 1:1:1 ratio – equal parts fruit to sugar to vinegar – that fruit shrubs are traditionally based on. You can add more or less sugar depending on the tartness or sweetness of your fruit and personal taste.

For shrub making, choose an apple variety that’s juicy with lots of flavor. First, grate your apple. The more surface area you expose, the more flavor will infuse into the liquid.

Measure the grated fruit, then add to a large bowl or jar. Be sure to choose a vessel that will accommodate three times the volume of your fruit.

Next, add the same volume of sugar and stir well to combine with the apple. Cover and refrigerate the mixture overnight or for up to 24 hours.

When the apple and sugar are finished macerating, pull the bowl from the fridge and add the same volume of vinegar as you did apples and sugar. Apple cider vinegar is an obvious choice here, but you can use white vinegar as well – it will have a slightly sharper flavor.

Stir the mixture well to combine, then cover and place the bowl back in the refrigerator for a few more days. When that time is up, strain the mixture, taking care to press the fruit against the screen of the strainer to get out all of the shrubby goodness in the fruit.

Decant the shrub into a jar and seal tightly. Serve the shrub combined with water or seltzer. Or, add sweet, tart flavor to cocktails made with vodka or gin.

Store your shrub in the refrigerator. The longer you refrigerate, the more the flavors will meld and mellow.

Drink Up!

Now that you have an arsenal of ways to combine apples with your favorite alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, we hope you’ll look at these long-keeping fruits in new ways.

With a little preparation and access to good ingredients, you can keep warm with seasonal fruit cocktails all winter long.

Would you rather eat your pommes than drink them? We have plenty of recipes for you to try, like our baked apples stuffed with assorted dried fruits and nuts.

What’s your favorite spirit to pair with pomme flavors? How will you use fresh or hard cider in your next drink recipe? Let us know in the comments!

Horizontal top-down image of two cocktails on a wooden plank with ice, halved pommes, and herbs.

Make the most out of your homemade beverages with more of our expert advice and delicious recipes. We have so much more to share with you. Cheers to three more helpful articles:

Photo by Raquel Smith, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Uncredited photos via Shutterstock. Product photos via Mouth. Originally published January 14, 2017. Last updated February 20, 2024. With additional writing and editing by Nikki Cervone.

About Alex Jones

Alex Jones is a local food consultant and writer based in Philadelphia. Evangelizing about local food is second nature to Alex, whether she’s working an artisan cheesemaker’s farmers market stand or developing growth strategies for her favorite small-scale artisans. Her favorite areas to work in currently are the artisan cheese and pastured meat supply chains. When she’s not working, Alex spends her time managing her usually-overstuffed fridge, growing vegetables, foraging for fruits around the city, playing tuba in a disco cover band, and hanging out with her partner Dr Thunder, Philadelphia’s karaoke superhero, and their two cats, Georgia and Li’l Mama. Alex’s favorite food is some kind of cheese on some kind of bread.

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