An apple a day keeps the doctor away, or so they say. But what if you prefer your apples in boozy, liquid form? They won't keep the doctor away, but apple cider and apple brandy can help you add variety to your bar menu during the cold weather months.
Cider is a drink made from crushed and fermented fruit, usually apples. Likewise, brandy is distilled from fruit, but if it is made from anything other than grapes, it is specified as such—hence, apple brandy.
Here in the U.S., apple brandy has been produced since colonial times. In the early days, farmers would let apples ferment, then put the fermented juice in a barrel outside when it got cold. Since the freezing point of water is higher than that of alcohol, the water in the mixture would freeze. The farmers would scoop the ice out, leaving the alcohol behind. Known as “jacking,” this process left behind a higher proof product referred to as "applejack."
Laird & Company, the oldest licensed distillery in the U.S., still produces apple brandy. The company was formally established in 1780. Apparently, George Washington liked their brandy so much that he requested the recipe, made his own, and then sold it himself.
After Prohibition, the nation’s tastes started to shift towards lighter spirits. By the 1960s, Laird & Company was working with the U.S. government to introduce regulations for a new spin on an old product: applejack. The guidelines say this spirit must be made from at least 20 percent apple brandy that’s been stored in oak for no less than two years. To create a lighter profile, the brandy is blended with neutral spirit.
There’s one more important type of apple brandy that's worth mentioning: Calvados. Like tequila and champagne, Calvados is a legally protected appellation, which means that it must come from a specific geographic location (for Calvados, this is the Lower Normandy region of France). It also must be aged in oak casks for at least two years. As a result, Calvados tends to taste oakier and slightly less apple-y than its American counterpart.
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The most famous applejack cocktail is the Jack Rose. Its ingredients are simple: grenadine, lime juice, and applejack, but its history is a bit more convoluted. As the most likely story goes, Jack Rose was the star witness in a trial that wrongfully convicted a NYPD officer of hiring a hit man. The cop went to the electric chair, and Rose started a catering company.
Though it’s possible Rose created the drink (or named it after himself), it’s just as likely that someone was playing around with the names of the base spirit and the color of the cocktail and put them together as Jack Rose.
3/4 oz lime juice
1/2 oz grenadine
2 oz applejack
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake vigorously until chilled through. Strain into a chilled coupe glass.
The Applejack Rabbit is a cocktail that dates back to the 1930s, a time before “applejack” and “apple brandy” referred to different spirits. It’s tasty, simple, and is one of the few drinks that manages to successfully incorporate maple syrup.
1/2 oz Grade B Maple Syrup (grade B is actually best, the grades refer to when the syrup is harvested)
3/4 oz lemon juice
3/4 oz orange juice
2 oz high proof apple brandy
Combine in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake until chilled through, about 15-18 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe.