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In New England when I was growing up, apple orchards were everywhere, and fall meant apple picking and fresh cider and chubby pumpkins and hay rides through corny 'haunted' mazes out in some farmer's field. I miss it all. Living in Southern California, I long for these things, especially good apples. New Englanders are a lucky bunch.
I try to squeeze what I can out of the few weeks that pass as autumn where I live. The sense of smell can be a powerful trigger for emotion and memory, so I start the hayride in my mind by simmering some apple cider on my stove. Cooking that cider down and down and down is all about the aroma: the scent it offers takes me right back to the apple orchard. Bonus: the cider gets nice and concentrated, making an intensely flavorful syrup that is great in fall recipes (especially cocktails.) Plain old apple juice waters down a cocktail, but this concentrate is bold and tangy.
If you can get to an orchard stand, flavorful just-pressed apple cider is the ideal, but storebought cider with no added sugars (or anything else) will also work just fine. Look for the cloudy, unfiltered stuff—it may or may not have been pasteurized. For this cider concentrate, don't pick up crystal-clear apple juice; you'll want the heft of the cider to get the flavor needed for the final drink.
The concentrated cider syrup is just one of three ways that apples are layered in this drink; the cocktail gets a splash of potent Laird's Bonded Apple Brandy, and a little lightness from hard cider. A bit of lemon brightens the drink and helps to meld the flavors. The result is refreshing, boozy, and dry: this ain't no candy apple, but it'll take you right back to those days racing through the U-Pick fields.
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