1 cup vodka, bourbon or rye whiskey, chilled (optional)
1 750-ml bottle nonalcoholic sparkling apple cider, chilled
6 to 8 small apples
Remove 6 wide strips zest from 1 lemon with a vegetable peeler. Juice all the lemons to make 3/4 cup juice; refrigerate the juice. Bring 2 cups water, the sugar, lemon zest, cinnamon sticks and cloves to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer 5 minutes. Let cool, then strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a large liquid measuring cup or bowl. Refrigerate until cold, at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.
Combine the spiced syrup, cranberry juice and lemon juice in a large punch bowl. Stir in the liquor, if using, then top with the sparkling apple cider. Add the apples. Serve over ice.