Mulled Apple Cider came around 40 – 50 AD when the Romans made it to what is modern-day England. Brewed apple cider was a popular Celtic drink in the area, and the invading forces brought it back to Rome. The Romans had a tradition of brewing herbs into their wine (Hippocras) for flavor and medicinal properties. They applied that to cider, thus creating mulled or spiced cider. Read my apple cider ingredient description first but pick the cider you want based on what you want your final product to be most like and how you want to layer your flavors. I think the sparkling cider apple juice stuff is way too sweet. I save that for the kids. The orchard unfiltered apple juice stuff is pretty good but just a little too sweet. So you can’t add your sweeteners like maple syrup or honey etc. This limits your ability to add complexity. I prefer to make this with a semi-dry cider beer or still apple wine. These give you room to build more of your flavors and bring an excellent brewed and aged taste that the unfiltered stuff lacks. Regular cider-style beer works well for this too. The bubbles dissipate after a few minutes, and you just left with essentially a still apple wine. So before your next holiday party, get a variety pack of ciders. See what you like, and then buy a six-pack of the stuff. Also, a six-pack is almost equal to 3 bottles of wine, so keep that in mind, and don’t just add all six beers or adjust accordingly.
Next up is spices. Long story short, just read my mulling spices description. It can be summed up as not adding too much and sticking to just four different spices. Think cooking; you wouldn’t add a shit ton of salt or pepper to your fried eggs. It would be too much, so you do a light sprinkle. The same thing with this: add 2 or 3 cloves, three cinnamon sticks, etc. A little bit goes a very long way.
Next up is cooking. Most folks do this in a crockpot, so I would just set it to warm. High, low, and simmer are all too hot. Alcohol burns off at 173 f (78 c), and high, low, and simmer all go to around 180 – 200 f. High gets there faster than low and simmer, but warm only goes to 160 f. You can do a slow cooker if you want, but keep in mind that you will burn off most of the booze even at a warm temperature if you cook it for a long time. I think it boils better if you do it faster in a regular stovetop pot. Turn on the fire, pour it into the pot and quickly bring it to heat. If you have a thermometer, stop around 160 or till you start to see a light vapor coming off the top. Once your hooch is up to temp, drop it to low, add your sweetener and spices, and then cook for just 20 minutes. Most of the good flavors in your spices will come out in those first few minutes. Turn off the heat, add your bourbon, and serve. And that’s it. Serve it, put a lid on it, put it in a thermos, reheat it when you want more a little later, but stop the long-term higher temperature cooking. Some folks cook this stuff for hours, but I think that’s a little excessive. You won’t get any more good flavor out of it, and you will burn off the booze.