apple cider sangria

For about five minutes — before we remembered that we have an infant, a 6 year-old, two full-time jobs, a not very big apartment, an international business trip this month (sadly, not mine) are now doubting we are actually made of whatever is required to pull this off — we thought we might have a Friendsgiving dinner party this year. I love Thanksgiving and I want more of it in my life, ditto to friends and also dinner parties. Everything about this was going to awesome. I didn’t have to plan the menu to my perfect Thanksgiving dinner because I wrote it in my head probably five years ago and from what I hear, Alton Brown’s turkey recipe is the only one you’ll ever need. (Or should I dry brine? Or maybe this lacquered thing? Or maybe a mash-up of all of them? Or maybe just import a smoked one from Texas and be the most chilled out host in the history of Thanksgiving, ever, amiright?) Right, well, I had everything else planned out:

what you'll need
reduced apple cider
a rainbow of apples

And this is where the fun began. I decided that a new tradition required a new special cocktail that would forever be tied to a time and place. In general, I’m a classicist about sangria. Like most of us, I’ve endured all sorts of disturbing ingredients masquerading as sangria — Sprite, frozen lemonade, coconut rum, basil, a ton of sugar (whhhy) which are all ingredients I’ve pulled from just the first few Google results for sangria — and try not to mess with what’s always worked. But, it turned out, I didn’t have to upend tradition too obnoxiously to make the apple cider sangria of my dreams. For the red wine, I used a dry white. For the brandy, I used an apple brandy or Calvados. Instead of a splash of juice, I used apple cider, which I’d reduced so it would be more concentrated and flavorful. I kept the less traditional Triple Sec in place, because I like the hint of orange, but you can skip it if you are less of a sangria blasphemist. And for the fruit, we used a mix of apples, because like everyone else, we overdid it at the apple farms in October.

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The result was even better than I’d hoped, and apple-y in an adult way: subtle and not terribly sweet. As our kids ran up and down the hallways in an sugar-demonic haze, trick-or-treating through a friend’s building last weekend, we grownups got to sip from glasses of, uh, grown-up candy. (While saving the actual candy-thieving for after they fall asleep, as is our parental privilege, of course.)

apple cider sangria
apple cider sangria

One year ago: Sticky Toffee Pudding
Two years ago: Perfect, Uncluttered Chicken Stock
Three years ago: Granola-Crusted Nuts
Four years ago: Baked Pumpkin and Sour Cream Puddings
Five years ago: Upside-Down Cranberry Cake
Six years ago: Moroccan-Spiced Spaghetti Squash
Seven years ago: Pepita Brittle
Eight years ago: Lemon Ricotta Pancakes with Sauteed Apples
Nine years ago: Not Your Mama’s Coleslaw

And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Liege Waffles
1.5 Years Ago: Fresh Spinach Pasta
2.5 Years Ago: Essential Raised Waffles
3.5 Years Ago: Bacon Egg and Leek Risotto
4.5 Years Ago: Creme Brulee French Toasts

Apple Cider Sangria

Psst, here’s the other reason I rather love having a big pitcher or two of a single, seasonally-perfect, agreeable-to-most cocktail at dinner parties: it saves you a lot of work. Sure, you might still grab a six-pack of beer or a bottle or two of wine or bubbly, but for the most part, most people will drink what you’ve mixed and you won’t spend any time fussing about with tonics and gins and juice and bourbon and vodka. A good cocktail is efficient.

Makes 1 pitcher (about 1 quart) sangria; definitely double for a crowd

1 cup apple cider (the fresh kind, not the fizzy alcoholic kind)
1 bottle dry white wine
1/4 cup calvados or another apple brandy
1/4 cup Triple sec or another orange liqueur
Mixed colors of apples, diced and tossed with lemon juice to prevent browning
Seltzer, sparkling water or sparkling apple cider to finish

Place the apple cider in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce about 3/4 of the way, until you have approximately 1/4 cup apple cider left; this will take 10 to 15 minutes. Pour into small bowl set over a bowl of ice water and stir; it will cool very quickly this way.

Pour reduced, cooled cider into pitcher. Add wine, apple brandy and triple sec. Add fruit and let sit in the fridge until needed. Add some fizz right before serving; a slotted spoon will help guests hold back the fruit while pouring their glasses, and spoon some on top, if desired.

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101 comments on apple cider sangria

  1. Rachel

    We are hosting a Friendsgiving in two weeks, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to use your hypothetical menu verbatim. Can’t wait to see the salad and pecan pie recipes! Thank you!

  2. Emily

    In my opinion, a good smoked turkey CANNOT be beat. My dad has smoked our Thanksgiving turkeys my entire life and I still remember the first time I had non-smoked turkey at an extended family Thanksgiving event and went running to my mother to ask what was wrong with it (dry! tasteless! no delicious pink smoke ring!).

  3. Would you please perform a public service to those of us with zero organizational/time management cooking skills and post the time line of how you accomplish this fantastic sounding dinner?

  4. This sounds like a perfect cocktail for a crowd. My husband and I were going to make punch this year for Thanksgiving, but this is a great idea- same idea, just less boozy (and since we have some college students going to be at our Thanksgiving, less boozy is ideal).

  5. Ooh, this looks spectacular, and would be a nice, lighter alternative to mulled wine at my holiday party.

    Speaking of dinner parties though, I’ve read a bunch of articles lately about how no one entertains anymore and it made me sad. I love having people over (even more, I love feeding people), but it is sometimes intimidating if you’re doing all the cooking yourself, though personally I wouldn’t mind if someone invited me over and made sandwiches.

    So I’m starting a cookbook cooking club in Chicago :-) It takes some of the pressure off of doing all the cooking myself, gives me a reason to try the cookbooks languishing on my shelf and some I never would have otherwise, and is great excuse to get together with other people who love food that doesn’t involve trying to split a restaurant check 6 ways. We’re doing Around My French Table for our first meeting this month, and I’m so excited. Your next book will be on the list too ;-)

  6. Tess

    Freaky! You’re blog is my favorite and I check it constantly for new posts. I have to come up with an apple dish/drink for a party tomorrow and I finally (moments ago) had an epiphany: I’d make an apple cider sangria! I googled it and your brand new post came up.
    You are a food goddess! I can’t wait to try your recipe tomorrow!

  7. joanne

    I looked at your photo of apple cider reducing in the pan and I swear I could smell it from my paper-strewn office desk where I am supposed to be working instead of drooling over yet another fabulous SK recipe. You are my biggest and most favorite distraction from work.

  8. Ada

    Dear Deb, please get out of my head! I was thinking about apple cider last night and this looks just amazing. We are also hosting a Friendsgiving despite the fact that we are Canadian (sort of as an excuse to have a second Thanksgiving), but we’re doing it potluck style. I make the turkey and everyone else brings sides and drinks. That said, after seeing this recipe, I might just have to make it even though I swore this year’s Friendsgiving would be hands off!

  9. amanda

    This looks great. I think I will bring this along with pumpkin pie for thanksgiving.
    On a turkey note: I like wet brining and then splatchcocking the bird. Martha Stewart has good splatchcocking instructions. You basically flatten out the 3d shape, so it cooks more evenly and much quicker.

  10. L

    Do the smoked one! two decades ago, my uncle made the most amazing turkey on his Weber charcoal grill, and I’m (obviously) still talking about it

  11. Michele

    This sounds awesome! I think I should make a test batch just for me and my husband this evening. :)
    Re: turkey, I second Amanda above! We wet brine and then spatchcock, because pulling a fully cooked 12-pound turkey out of the oven in about two hours is the most amazing thing ever. We made Bon Appetit’s recipe with anise and orange last year!

  12. Lauren

    Woo Hoo! Cider Sangria? Who knew? Have several perfect opportunities to try this out. A baby shower, a friend’s send off( and return)from a short European jaunt, and of course Turkey Day. Yessss.

    The family photo is great, BOTH “boys” taking hold of Anna (when neither one had to to insure her safety) speaks volumes. She is an obvious joy to all, not just to your Smitten Fans.

  13. Molly

    YESSS!!! I have been craving a fall Sangria, and like you, I was annoyed by all the weird, too-sweet recipes I was coming across. And now the amazing Smitten Kitchen, my go-to source for any recipe, magically drops the perfect cocktail recipe in my lap. Thank you. You’re the best. And I’m totally stealing your T-Day meal plan. One of the things I’m thankful for this year – Smitten Kitchen! :)

  14. Karen P.

    I love, love, LOVE the family pic! Jacob is going to be
    the BEST big brother! What a precious message he’s sending!
    “She’s MY sister!”

  15. Bebe

    Oh, my! I think I’ll try this on my weekly RPG group for a test run before Thanksgiving, which I will be hosting for the first time in I don’t know how many years. Reading the comments led to a more careful perusal of the menu. I’m seriously thinking about ordering one of the smoked turkeys. The most stressful part of the cooking for Thanksgiving has been timing of the turkey. (Sorry, Mom!)

  16. Jennifer

    Hmm, our Thanksgiving’s have always involved the cranberry sangria some chef (sorry, chef, I can’t remember your name) gave out on NPR. And then Heidi Swanson posted a rosemary vodka punch a few years ago. Now it sounds like we’ll have three cocktail pitchers for winter parties…
    Also, Storm King? Or somewhere else I need to visit the next time I’m in the New York region? Either way, autumn foliage, so lovely…

  17. Mindy

    This sounds perfect, and just in time for my own friendsgiving tomorrow. On the turkey front, I highly recommend the pancetta-sage turkey from Epicurious. One year I would like to do a menu with pancetta in every dish, but probably should have done that before the WHO recommendation came out.

  18. No need to brine. Just buy a kosher turkey. I remember when Martha Stewart introduced us all to brining all those years ago my mother called me because she thought it was hilarious that people were spending days doing something the butcher does automatically. My mom will proudly tell you she’s never had a dry piece of bird in her life. My Catholic mother-in-law – not so much.

    I hope that photo is on the mantle – beautiful shot.

  19. Randi

    I was JUST a telling the fam about apple sangria and here it is again. I’m a sweet lover so I might sub caramel vodka for triple sec. Sacrilege. I know. A thousand apologies. :)

  20. Jane

    Just visited NY for four days (first trip yippee!) and just realised that I didn’t try fresh cider, which is something we just don’t get in Australia :( Now I’ll just need to plan another trip back!!

  21. Eileen

    I might try this with alcoholic apple cider instead of the white wine to keep the apple-theme pure. Plenty to choose from too: New York has some of the best small cideries.

  22. JP

    For those of us who do not drink alcohol, apple cider and sparkling water make a very refreshing drink…this is a common drink in Munich, Germany, where I first had it. Your menu looks great, especially because many of the recipes can be made a few days ahead. I always feel pretty triumphant if I get up on Thanksgiving day with half the dinner already prepared. Even better when there are plenty of left overs for the days after the holiday!

  23. Love the idea of reducing the cider! May I suggest adding a cinnamon stick, 2 or 3 cloves, and/or star anise when reducing the the apple cider. I start my winter sangrias with an infused simple syrup (so just a bit of added sugar) and then add the wine, booze, apple, pear, pomegranate, etc.

  24. Jennie

    I didn’t know any other way to alert you – a sponsored link appeared in my Facebook feed, purporting to be something from your website but appears to be some kind of weight loss scheme. I thought you’d want to know. I can’t seem to post a screenshot of it here. It appears as a post by “Jaime Monroe” and shows a photo of what looks like tea with a lemon. The line reads “I was fat until I drank this” or something equally lame and the website name under the photo is

  25. Charlotte in Toronto

    As a side note to the cider/Triple Sec combo – Triple Sec is my favourite addition to mulled apple cider. The orange is a great complement to the cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. I let people add it as they please to their own mug to let it stay booze-free for the people who don’t imbibe.

  26. Kimberly

    I host Thanksgiving yearly, and cannot stop fiddling with the menu. As a result, I’ve tried pretty much every permutation of turkey recipes. Alton Brown’s brine is excellent, but takes up considerable space. I have a suburban kitchen with an extra refrigerator in the garage, so this is my go-to. However, if space was at all limited to me, I would do a dry brine, spatchcocked turkey. The dry brine doesn’t require nearly as much space or time as the wet brine.

    But at the end of the day, I really don’t think this matters much because I think the real success in Thanksgiving is in the sides, which you nailed already.

  27. Anna

    This is a little off the subject but how to I make cranberry syrup? I tried to make the one in your book 2 cups cranberries, 1/4 orange juice, 1/2 cup sugar and when I strained it it was more like gel then syrup. Do I need to add more liquid or did I do something wrong? I see in the book it’s totally liquid in the photos.

  28. Jen

    Just made this and it is lovely! We didn’t have any triple sec so hubs is out getting some now, but I tasted it without and it’s pretty darn good this way too. I’m suspecting that a few orange slices in the mix would accomplish the same thing the triple sec will, just in case anyone else is reading this sans orange liqueur. I’m thinking about bringing this to thanksgiving too, though I don’t know if I’ll want to share it. :)

  29. PippaS

    Looks and sounds great, even when we don’t have thanks/friend/any-othergiving going on in the UK. But I’m not sure what you mean by apple cider, not the fizzy kind. Here, cider is pretty much always fizzy, though not very much so if you get better-quality (= more expensive) cider. And cider is always made of apples… Can anyone translate please?

  30. Jen

    @PippaS, in America we have what we call cider as well as a separate beverage we call hard cider. Hard cider would be the alcoholic variety that I think you’re referring to. Our other cider is non-alcoholic, basically unfiltered apple juice, usually sold refrigerated in the fall. It works great here because it has both a sweetness and tartness that play off each other.

  31. Dianne

    Deb, your Thanksgiving menu sounds amazing! I would love to learn more about how you plan for and execute so many dishes for one meal. Do you make some of the items ahead, for example? Do you have a master spreadsheet to organize your day in 15-minute segments? I am a competent cook but this is one area in which I still feel like I’m floundering. Thanks for all you do!

  32. Ann

    Deb, was hoping to get your take on how to time a Thanksgiving dinner, as also someone who lives in a tiny city apartment with only one oven? I have a spreadsheet (yes, I’m type A) with everything that needs to be made, and they are all coming out at different cooking temps, not to mention the turkey will hog the oven for 2+ hours. How do you time / plan out your oven space?

  33. This sounds so tasty and perfect for Thanksgiving. I’m going to be featuring an equally festive drink for the holidays with bourbon, hard cider, and maple syrup that is everything cozy and Fall in one drink. On the blog next week!!

  34. This looks fantastic. The perfect Thanksgiving cocktail! And it could roll over into Christmas as well. Maybe I’ll bring this to my family Thanksgiving this year.

  35. Heather

    Hi Deb, I just wanted to tell you that I love your site. I check it daily and always enjoy reading your posts. I am actually vegan so can’t eat much of the food (without some substitutions) but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the photos! Your writing is so funny and your food is beautiful!

    I am excited to make this cider sangria! I am always on the lookout for fall and winter-y cocktails. I wonder how this would be heated up, something of a mulled wine instead of cold sangria?

  36. deb

    Scheduling this mythical Thanksgiving meal — Ha! Right, I suppose a schedule would be helpful. I will work on one for you guys. Roughly, my rules are that a) anything that CAN be done in advance, MUST be. I like to do as little cooking as possible (ha) on the day-of a dinner party because I want to be untired and ready to enjoy it. b) While it’s good to get a lot of grunt work out of the way as someone whose been there too many times, forgetting that it would take an hour to wash and dry salad greens or mince 5 onions or something equally annoying, it’s also good to push some items you’re unsure you can or even want to pull off to the end, if there’s extra time. c) In general, I prefer to make a LOT of a few things rather than many smaller things, which this menu flies in the face of. For me, the brussels would probably be the first to get nixed (they’re complicated). For you, it might be something else.

    Which turkey? — It sounds like The People do indeed vote for Alton’s. I am as yet undecided, but feel for the sake of research I need to make it at least once. #ifonlyiactuallylikedturkey That said, I am indeed very concerned about fridge space and for this reason, dry brine might be better.

    Heather — Might be delicious! You could also buy spiced cider or add mulling spices to this one (heating it with spices to infuse, then cool) to get a more holiday-ish flavor.

    Patrick — I meant to add some seltzer or other bubbly thing you’ve picked.

    Anna — Did you cranberry syrup thicken when it cooled or was it thick right from the get-go?

    Jennie — Thanks for the heads up. That’s definitely weird! If you see it again and don’t hugely mind helping me out, would you mind emailing me a screenshot? Thanks!

  37. stephanie

    (sorry for all the comment pooping, just catching up today)

    the idea of trick or treating within an apartment building sounds amazing! both because i always felt sad that apartment living meant i didn’t get to participate in candy giving and also because as a kid going outside on halloween was always wet and cold and clammy.

    it’s super cool to know that halloween does come for city kids! (i mean, i didn’t think that it didn’t? but i just never thought about the logistics. i’ve lived in boston for the past 12+ years but grew up in the burbs in RI.)

  38. deb

    stephanie — Actually, city kids get the best trick-or-treating: they go to stores! So, we pick a few blocks in our neighborhood busy with small stores and the kids have so much candy by the end of two or three blocks, they can barely carry their bags. And what a haul! An Edible Arrangements last year gave out chocolate-covered strawberries (to the parents, too, yay). A used book store gave out old comic books. A macaron shop gave out fresh brownies. It’s definitely the most amazing thing. This year, we just did a block or two before going to the friend’s building– in big buildings, it’s usually standard practice. (Our building is relatively small, so not a thing.)

    Tanya — That really sounds JUST up our alley. Thanks for the tip.

  39. Matt

    I’m going to throw in my vote for dry brine. Think of it as a bigger version of Zuni’s roast chicken.
    I won’t ever go back to wet brine.

  40. Growing up in upstate NY I have a true love of good apple cider so I love seeing recipes use it in different ways – particularly with a twist like this! I have to try Alton’s turkey recipe – that is the second time I have heard someone mention it in the last two days!

  41. Kalisa

    Oh yum, this is going on my “must make” list for the holidays for sure! I love apple cider, hard or not, so this version of sangria sounds delicious.

  42. Anna

    Hi Deb!
    Thanks so much for your reply. The cranberry syrup was thick from the beginning when it was still hot. I used regular Ocean Spray cranberries and 1/4 cup orange juice.

  43. Caroline

    Deb, I have never commented (in seven years), but the Greenberg Smoked Turkeys are a staple at holidays in our family and I felt the need! My grandparents started sending them years and years ago to my parents as gifts and when I got married a few years back my parents started sending them as gifts to my in-laws! It is the smokiest, most delicious part of our Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations. The sandwiches in the following days are even better (with just mayo–or a little cranberry sauce and dressing)! Some years we buy one just to slice up for sandwiches after holidays where we either ate somewhere else our cooked whole beef filets instead of the traditional dinner! My mom freezes the wings and legs to add to her peas and greens the next year instead of bacon. The meat is also great in a Christmas day gumbo for a smokey twist on the traditional recipe. I strongly implore anyone to order a turkey if you are even thinking about it, because you will not regret!!

  44. Erin

    Made this last night for a casual fall dinner party. What a hit!!! I’ve been looking for a way to use up a bottle of calvados and this turned out to be just the ticket. Also, we threw in a cinnamon stick to each glass to amp up the fall factor. Love this, Deb! Thanks!

  45. Lauren

    Tried this out at a baby shower this past weekend. Made 3 batches and could easily have used more! I couldn’t find any calvados but stumbled upon a McGillicuddy’s “Apple Pie” liqueur and used it with a basic Chardonnay instead. OMG! It was fabulous in the sangria, (and alone) and I also found some apple seltzer water… so this recipe is a definite “keeper”. Thank you so much. P.S. The honoree drank Lavender Lemonade- but asked for the recipe for “later”.

  46. Heather

    Made this for a big fall open house and it was a HUGE hit. For a party of about 30-40 adults, we quadrupled the recipe and used a box of $12 Franzia “crisp white” and nobody was the wiser. It makes a FULL punch bowl if you quadruple (really it made a bowl and a pitcher extra for us) and it was almost all gone by the end of the party.

  47. deb

    Gaither — I’d say days, even. Of course wine might taste the brightest shortly after its corked, so you could add that at the last minute too. But I don’t think anyone is really going to notice a whole lot if you mix it sooner. I might add the fruit in the last few hours, too, so it doesn’t look too aged.

  48. Michelle

    I recently made this recipe for a party with friends and family and it was a HUGE hit! This is by far the best Apple Cider Sangria recipe and one worth trying if you want a specialty drink when hosting a party, it will not disappoint! My local liquor store advised me to buy regualr brandy because it is much better on the wallet and I’m so glad I did because the drink was great as is and still had a wonderful apple taste to it because of the reduced apple cider and apple chunks (which did not turn brown). Can’t wait to make this sangria again next fall!

  49. deb

    Judy — Any kind that you like to drink, is my only rule. I tend to gravitate towards dry French wines (like the one you see here, which was delicious but a bit minerally, so maybe not for everyone) as a default. You could also use a white rioja.

  50. Sarah

    Deb, next year just do the Friendsgiving. It is the most amazing party we host all year. But the secret, as noted by another commenter, especially in a small apartment (our first 8 were in 1-2 bed places in London with tiny British ovens!) is to outsource it potluck style. Pick whatever 2-3 items you simply cannot leave without in your Thanksgiving meal and make those (for me, turkey, stuffing, my MIL’s cranberry sauce and my mom’s pumpkin pie with gingersnap crust). Leave the rest to others. Somehow it all works out. Even if one year someone brings enchiladas… True story.

  51. Apple season is coming soon. This looks like a winner.

    Men here like to fry turkeys, personally, I think it is an excuse to stand outside, drink beer, and keep all the kids in the house, (for safety, of course).

  52. Chamila Purbhoo

    hi there,
    Christmas is peak summer here and next week I am hosting a Friendsgiving party after reading from U.S blogs how they are popular.
    I have a few substitutions to ask.

    1) can I boil a good quality Apple juice instead of Apple cider?
    2) can orange juice like Tropicana be used instead of the orange liqueur?
    3) instead of brandy(expensive here), what can I use?

    hope anyone can help even if it isn’t Deb:) I will not mind any hints from readers too.

  53. Lorri

    I must endorse mail ordering a Turkey from Texas; I’ve been ordering these turkeys for more than 25 years and they’re FABULOUS. Some years I order for Thanksgiving and some years, for Christmas. (And if the guest list is large enough we’ll still make a turkey). Sometimes we don’t order for the holiday at all.

    We often gift these turkeys to family or friends… the meat is fabulous; it freezes well (including freezing the bones and skin) to make soup stock later. I encourage readers here, to order a smoked turkey from the Greenbergs, some day.

  54. This is SO good! Not sure how I missed it all these years but I’ve made it twice since Halloween and will absolutely be out on Thanksgiving as well! I’ve had a sangria recipe I love but always hated how much sugar is needed. This recipe is perfection and delicious! I’ll try the red one next.

  55. Savannah

    This was the BIGGEST hit of my Friendsgiving this year! I’ve never made a sangria to such rave reviews. So much so that I’m making another triple/quadruple) batch for my family celebration on Turkey Day. The only change I made was to add a cinnamon stick to the apple cider as it was reducing (it wasn’t spiced to start!). Love that it isn’t sickly sweet and the apple brandy really adds to the flavor profile without overwhelming.

  56. TerryB

    Can I qudruple it, make it ahead, and store in a big stainless steel stock pot?
    I thought I would add the fruit the morning of and sreve in a puch bowl.
    Thanks and I hope you have a great Thanksgiving!

  57. Savannah

    My absolute favorite sangria recipe, hands down. I make it every year for Friendsgiving and there is never enough to go around! I quadruple it and use boxed white wine (shh) but splurge on nice applejack brandy and grand mariner. It makes all the difference!

  58. Liz

    Deb, I’m with you on #ifonlyiactuallylikedturkey but Mark Bittman’s Braised Turkey recipe made a turkey convert out of me. I’m making it again for Canadian Thanksgiving this weekend with your stuffing. It is so good I crave it. I might add Cider Sangria to the menu!

  59. Katie

    Just wanting to chime in that in the year 2023, this sangria recipe is a hit around the holidays. Especially once your friend and family start munching on the liquor soaked apples at the bottom of their glass! Can’t wait to enjoy this week at thanksgiving!