Conversely, there are some valid reasons you might want to keep the liquor and cider apart during heating. Max Green, the bar director at New York’s Point Seven, claimed that, while steeping cider and alcohol together creates a better flavor profile, keeping the two separate for as long as possible is the way to go. “For one important reason,” he said. “You now have the option to accommodate someone who is not drinking that day or evening.” Suzanne DeStio, sommelier and beverage director at One White Street in Manhattan, agreed that keeping the alcohol separate from the heated cider is the better option. “I always recommend adding the booze to the glass or mug first so it doesn’t get ‘cooked,'” she said. “Warm the cider separately and steep in any additional spices you like, [and] then add on top of your spirit of choice.”
As you can likely surmise, there’s no cut-and-dry answer for when to add spirits to your cider. You may want to experiment with a few methods to determine which works better not only for you but for any guests you’re hosting for the holidays. And if cider proves too tricky, you can always grab a few cartons of store-bought eggnog on your way home and leave the apples for next season.