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.
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.