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Drink Of The Week: Jack Rose

The other day, the booze fairy delivered a bottle of Laird's Applejack. Well, OK, it wasn't actually the booze fairy, but rather a good friend "paying" me for some technology assistance. It happens that I occasionally do handy work and technology support for friends who sometimes see fit to compensate me this way. Am I complaining? Certainly not! So, this week's Drink Of The Week is brought to you by the Technology Support Department at Summit Sips. We don't advertise "Will Work For Booze" but it sometimes works out that way!

All of my recent posts regarding bourbon left me considering the fact that although it is truly an American spirit, it wasn't actually the first to be produced in this country. That honor goes to Applejack, a brandy-based spirit produced from fermented apples. As one of our readers pointed out in a comment to my Kentucky Teaser, it was Laird & Company that obtained License #1 in 1780—our country's first legal distiller. The Jack Rose cocktail pays tribute to this unique spirit. Classically portioned, this smallish cocktail can be made with either lemons or limes—both are delicious—and a few dashes of grenadine. There are many theories as to how this cocktail got its name, and you can entertain yourself with the research. However, I believe some things are often just as simple as they seem. It's made with Applejack, and it's rose-colored.

Jack Rose
1.5 oz applejack
.5 oz lemon or lime juice
2-3 dashes real pomegranate grenadine

Add the ingredients to a shaker, seal and shake thoroughly to chill. Strain in to a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon or lime wedge.

The Jack Rose is certainly a Jazz Age classic, but it may be easier to go out and buy some Applejack and make this cocktail yourself than it is to find it at a bar. Hopefully that's changing as we move into the golden age of mixology. Drinking establishments are finally starting to recognize that the "fear of flavor" era is over and patrons today want to experience a little more for their hard-earned dollar. Flavored vodkas are commonplace, whiskey brands are appearing on the the shelves in droves, and gin is seeing a revival in popularity it hasn't experienced since the first half of the last century. It's no surprise, when you look at all of the cooking stores and food-related television programming, that people are starting to demand flavor and quality in their cocktails too. Most bars would do well as a start to simply reinstate the classics to their featured lists.

Laird & Company is the only distiller making Applejack in the U.S. today, so if you are heading to the store, that's what you are looking for. Similar to Calvados—apple brandy from the French region of that name—Applejack is a product of hard cider distillation. Fresh apples are hand picked at their peak in late September and pressed into juice. The juice is fermented to make a dry cider, and the cider is distilled to make apple brandy. This distillate is then aged from four to six years in charred oak barrels before it is blended with neutral spirits and bottled as Applejack. The result carries a distinctive fruity apple flavor and aroma that works more like a whiskey than a brandy.

Using Laird's in the Jack Rose is your best option. You can use Calvados if that's all you have, but since a pure apple brandy typically spends more time in oak, it's smoother character doesn't help the Jack Rose. Stick with the Applejack and save your Calvados for something else. One nice variation is that you can use either lemon or lime juice to make this drink. Either works well and both are represented in historical recipes.

Finally, you really do want to use a real pomegranate grenadine in this drink—and all drinks that call for it. Finding a nice grenadine is getting easier, but the most common brand is still the corn syrup and chemical colored mix that doesn't even have real pomegranate juice in it. Do yourself a favor and just make some of your own. It's a simple process and you can even use bottled juice which is available everywhere. When adding your grenadine, most recipes call for a couple of dashes. However, I have seen some that suggest a portion equal to that of the citrus juice. Balance is the name of the game here, so if your grenadine syrup has a high sugar ratio, use a little less. As always, taste is going to help you judge, and in the end, it's your cocktail, so make it the way you like to drink it.

Give the Jack Rose a try. It's not a huge cocktail (have two—they're small) and that's consistent with most classics. It also gives you another excuse to make grenadine and to add Applejack to your liquor cabinet.

9 comments to Drink Of The Week: Jack Rose

  • As the price of Applejack has been rising, it's not too far from some decent Calvados like Morin Seleccion. Or even the Laird's Bonded product. Applejack doesn't taste very apple-y in comparison.

  • Frederic,
    I understand that Laird selects the barrels that show the brightest, strongest apple flavors for their Applejack, but blending with neutral spirits reduces the apple flavor as you noticed. The flavor is still there, and I think that's the goal with this product. This is why I think it works a lot like a whiskey. If you want the pure apple flavor, you are right--you might be better with a Calvados.

  • If you're making a whiskey comparison, then Laird's Applejack would be the Canadian whiskey compared to a rye or bourbon.

  • I have made Jack Roses with both the Laird's AppleJack and just started with the bonded. And I really like the rough edge of the tast of the regular Applejack, and it actually does taste more applely in a simple way. The bonded, which is made from 100% apples, is more complex and alcoholic, and has a more wood taste coming through from the barrel. It's a nice edge, different, more whisky-like that I'm not sure is best in the Jack Rose.

    • Amber, Great analysis of flavors here. I doubt I would ever have both Laird's products in the cabinet at the same time, so for the sake of other drinks, it's probably always going to be the bonded going forward. You make an interesting point about the wood, however. It seems odd that the blended product would have more apple flavor given what we know about how it's made, but I have a theory that with less of the wood, what apple there is gets boosted or enhanced by the citrus--similar to adding lemon juice to a pie filling. I guess it boils down to flexibility. You certainly won't end up with a bad drink depending on what you use, but the various combinations are worth exploring.

  • Honestly as a non-expert it's hard for me to describe what I'm tasting, I'm just a drinker. Perhaps if you try it you can be more precise in describing the difference. But the two are noticibly different. I make my own grenadine now, using the method poste by Jeffrey Morganthaler, and had always used more than you have in your recipe here. Last night I used half as much because I thought the bonded might be sweeter and I wanted to taste the base spirit more since. Not sure the bonded is sweeter at all, but it is a lot stronger and one drink was enough for a test!

    A local bar around me called The Richardson makes their Jack Rose with the bonded, and I had tried it there first. I am trying to get more used to it at home. This remains a drink I'm fascinated with lately.

    • Amber, I was excited to see your comments about the flavor differences. I think your descriptions are good. With this kind of analysis, I think you can give yourself a lot more credit than just a drinker! Besides, I've read your recent blog posts and you definitely have the detail and interest to make the discussion meaningful.

      Also, homemade grenadine makes such a big difference right?

  • Paul Olsson

    Dear Randy,
    I hope you are all fine in Oregon(? ) I'm fine here in Sweden and we are in the middle of fall. I have a hard time getting my hands on some Applejack here in Europe and I wonder if you think Calvados would be compatible when a cocktail calls for the American apple brandy? I suppose you must get pretty close though?

    All the best!

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