There's no reason to take any of this mixology stuff too seriously. Whether or not you consider the art of mixing drinks a science, it would be hard to convince most people that it's an exact science. Everyone has an opinion about what mixes well together, what proportions work best, what tastes good and what should be avoided. The whole reason I created Summit Sips was to introduce readers to ingredients, flavors and techniques that might be new to you—because so much of it was new to me—and let you decide what to like or dislike. The journey so far has led to homemade ingredients, unusual spirit categories, tools, techniques and some fascinating history. It all adds up to a deeper understanding of what goes into the shaker so that we are all better appreciators of what comes out. Today, we pull together a variety of interesting ingredients to build the Newark cocktail, a modern recipe that is loosely based on a sublime classic, the Manhattan.
The Manhattan is a common starting point for so many cocktail recipes, probably because it's one cocktail that has gathered almost universal appeal. Although not everyone likes whiskey cocktails, the recipe has remained essentially unchanged since barmen first started mixing it more than a century ago. Its simplicity may have allowed it to survive intact, but to say it didn't also evolve is to ignore the many cocktails that are based on it. Even today, the Manhattan continues to inspire new recipes. Our Drink of the Week is another creation by Jim Meehan of PDT in New York that appears to be modeled after the Manhattan, but rather than whiskey, the Newark uses Applejack for the base spirit.
2 oz. Laird’s Bonded Applejack
1 oz sweet vermouth
.25 oz Fernet Branca
.25 oz maraschino liqueur
Stir with ice, then strain into a chilled coupe. No garnish.
Applejack, as you may recall from the Jack Rose or the Norwegian Wood, is an apple flavored spirit—a brandy to be more specific. Laird's is located in New Jersey and they have been making their Applejack brandy for a very long time. Bourbon may have the legal definition of being a truly American spirit, but Applejack is definitely the oldest. Similar to French Calvados, Laird's Applejack is basically distilled hard apple cider. On the shelf you can find two varieties, so if you have the option, spend a couple more dollars and get the Laird's Bonded Applejack. Not only is it bottled at a higher proof, but the real benefit is that it's 100% apple brandy. The regular version is cut with neutral spirits, reducing the apple intensity. It's like the difference between a blended Canadian whiskey and an American rye, and like a good rye, the bonded Applejack will stand up to the other ingredients with more pronounced flavor. Can you make the Newark with the regular Applejack? Absolutely. I did.
We have often featured drinks with Luxardo Maraschino liqueur, so that should be familiar, but this is the first time we have posted a drink containing Fernet Branca. If you recall, Fernet is an Italian Amaro, or bitter digestivo. And, it's one of the bitterest with a flavor akin to herbal menthol medication. If that sounds odd or disgusting to you, don't let it stop you from trying this drink. Fernet is very popular in San Francisco where it has become swept up in the quest to use unusual (and in this case, historical) ingredients to create cocktails that offer something new. Argentinians drink more Fernet than anyone else in the world. They take it with Coke, but in my house, the bottle is used more often as it was intended—to settle the stomach—and it really works!
So, how does Fernet Branca taste in the Newark cocktail? It's interesting and surprisingly good. Any more than a quarter ounce of this stuff will easily dominate a recipe, but here the Fernet seems almost controlled, maybe by the sweet maraschino. It also dovetails nicely with the vermouth. As you sip the Newark, you notice the Applejack first (and probably more so if you use the Bonded product). The apple is bolstered by sweet flavors as the vermouth takes over. That's followed by the unusual and lingering kick from the Fernet. It has a very satisfying taste overall, even with all of its herbal complexity. I expected the maraschino to be more prominent, but here it seems to hang with the vermouth for a cherry-garnished Manhattan character, keeping one foot planted on familiar ground while the other pivots around the apple and herbal aromatics. I enjoy this cocktail and will make it again. It's perfect after a nice meal, especially if it included lots of garlic and onions. It's not as heavy as a rye Manhattan, but what you lose by not having whiskey, you make up for with the amaro. Try it, and let me know what you think.