An old-fashioned Mulled Cider recipe makes the perfect fall and winter beverage! Guests of all ages love this warm, cozy blend of apple cider, spices, and fruit. Serve the festive drink in a Crock Pot at holiday gatherings, or simmer a small batch on the stovetop for your family. You only need 5 ingredients and about 5 minutes of prep!
Hot Mulled Cider Beverage
Apples are big business here in Virginia -- especially in our little community of Madison County, where the Apple Harvest Festival is one of the largest events of the year. The season wouldn't be complete without a few mugs of hot mulled cider, and this easy recipe is definitely the best. You can whip up a big batch in about 5 minutes, or decrease the ingredients to make a smaller pot. Kids and adults love the warm spices in the fresh, fruity drink, and the aroma that fills your house is unbelievably good. There's no candle that can ever compare to the smell of warm apple cider. If only these photos were scratch-and-sniff!
What does Mulled Cider mean?
Technically, mulled cider is a sweet cider that's heated with spices and citrus fruit. The verb mull means "to heat, sweeten, and spice," which is exactly what you're doing here. It's called mulled cider because you'll start with a jug of sweet apple cider, and then simmer the beverage over low heat with oranges, cranberries, cinnamon and cloves. The mulling spices and fruit infuse the cider, transforming it from a cold fruit juice into a warm, flavorful beverage. This recipe is family-friendly; however, some versions of mulled cider do include alcohol.
Another Name for Hot Mulled Cider: Wassail
You might also know this hot mulled cider by another name -- Wassail. In Old England, Wassail was a beverage of hot mulled cider, drunk traditionally as an integral part of wassailing, a Medieval Christmastide ritual intended to ensure a good cider apple harvest the following year. Today Wassail is most commonly made with apple cider or apple juice, wine (aka ‘Glogg’) or ale.
Exotic spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves from the Indies or the Orient were costly for Europeans throughout the middle ages, and were therefore saved for special occasions. These spices were simmered in the beverage of choice to create a communal "wassailing bowl" for the crowd of revelers at the apple harvest, Yuletide or Lammas Day celebrations. The traditions from Old Europe came to America with the colonists, and have therefore been a part of our local Virginia heritage from its inception.
The Best Mulled Cider Recipe Starts with The Best Apple Cider
Since this recipe requires just 5 simple ingredients, it's important to use the highest-quality version of these ingredients that you can find. The best apple cider yields the best mulled cider! I always use local, fresh, unpasteurized apple cider because it's readily available at farm stands and orchards here in Virginia.
If you don't have access to local, unpasteurized cider, look for a cloudy cider with no added sugars or spices. You can typically find these in the refrigerated section at your grocery store. I do not recommend using apple juice (which is typically sweetened and lacking deep flavor), hard cider, or sparkling cider.
This recipe calls for cinnamon and cloves; however, you can feel free to add other spices that you enjoy. Good options include ginger, star anise, black peppercorns, or allspice berries. When you just have a few spices floating around in the cider, it's pretty easy to avoid ladling them into your glass. If you decide to add more variety of spices to your cider, I recommend tying them up in a little bundle so that they're easy to remove at the end.
How to Make Mulled Cider
This recipe is for a non-alcoholic hot mulled cider beverage that's prepared on the stovetop. If you'd like to make your Wassail in the slow cooker, I've included those instructions below. You will also find alcohol suggestions, should you choose to spike your drinks!
- Apple cider
- Whole cloves
- Cinnamon sticks
- Orange slices
- Fresh or frozen cranberries
Step 1: Combine Ingredients
Place all of the ingredients in a large pot.
Step 2: Simmer
Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 20 minutes. Then ladle into mugs and serve!
How to Serve Mulled Cider
Mulled cider is best served warm. If you notice bits of spices floating around in the pot, you can strain the cider through a fine mesh sieve just before serving. I like to garnish the mugs with orange slices, cranberries and cinnamon sticks for a pretty touch, but that's certainly not necessary.
Slow Cooker Instructions
If you're hosting a large gathering and you'd like to leave the cider simmering for an extended period, you can prepare the beverage in a Crock Pot. To do so, place all of the ingredients in the slow cooker. Cover and cook on LOW for about 4 hours. Again, you can strain the liquid through a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth into a large pot at the end if you want to remove all bits of spices.
Mulled Cider Alcohol
If you prefer an adult beverage, you can spike individual glasses with alcohol or add the alcohol of your choice to the pot. Just make sure that you stir in the alcohol at the end of the cooking time so that you don't cook off the alcohol.
Good mix-ins for mulled cider include bourbon, rum, brandy, Calvados (an apple brandy), or even whiskey.
Leftover mulled cider can be stored in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. You can reheat the cider over a low flame on the stovetop or in the microwave for about 1 minute.
Adjust the Quantity
This particular recipe yields 1 gallon of mulled cider. Feel free to make more or less, depending on your needs. For instance, cut all of the ingredients in half to prepare 2 quarts.
More Ways to Enjoy Apple Cider
Mulled Cider ("Wassail")
- 1 gallon apple cider
- 1 tablespoon whole cloves
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 4 orange slices
- ½ cup fresh or frozen cranberries
- Combine all of the ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low; simmer for 20 minutes. Ladle into mugs and serve warm. If you want to strain off bits of spices and fruit that are floating in the cider, you can pour the liquid through a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth before serving.