In the cocktail world, a memorable name and an intriguing backstory make a drink stand out. The Jack Rose, a simple cocktail with a somewhat straightforward name, has both.
HOW THE JACK ROSE GOT ITS NAME
For more than a century, this apple brandy-based cocktail has captivated drinkers with its vibrant hue and varying backstories. The most colorful of its histories is that it was invented by or named for notorious gambler “Bald Jack” Rose, an informant and the star witness in the 1912 Rosenthal murder trial. Even cocktail historian Dave Wondrich “spent many years believing that this drink … was named after Bald Jack,” he says in his book Imbibe!.
But a 1913 article in The Arizona Republican mentions that, after the Rosenthal trial, no one wanted to buy either the Jack rose flower or the drink: “There was a serious slump in cocktails which were known as Jack Roses. A Jack Rose is a cocktail which was guaranteed to cultivate a keen edge on one’s appetite … [the] bartenders decided that perhaps under another name the Jack Rose cocktail might again become a good seller.” If the article is to be believed, bartenders sold the cocktail as a Royal Smile.
Either way, the drink was around before the trial. The more likely tale is, in Wondrich’s words, “a less glamorous back story.” According to a 1905 issue of the National Police Gazette, a bartender named Frank J. May (who was, for some reason, nicknamed Jack Rose) most likely invented the tipple.
If May didn’t name the drink after himself, it’s possible that it was named after the Jack rose flower for its rosy color. A third option is that its name is a combination of a nickname for applejack (Jack) and its rose.
After it was invented, its popularity waxed and waned. Its fame surged through the '20s and '30s, and it was even mentioned in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. Interestingly enough, a cocktail with a similar recipe appears in The Savoy Cocktail Book, published in 1930, as an Apple Jack (Special) Cocktail. From there, it makes a cameo in David Embury’s 1948 book The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, then virtually disappeared until it was unearthed and dusted off by a few modern bartenders.
A few things make the Jack Rose stand out. According to Wondrich, it’s one of only two classic applejack cocktails. Unlike other classic sour variations, it’s also taken a while to come back into fashion. The most likely explanation is the ingredients: it’s tough to find good grenadine (unless you make it), and Laird’s applejack and bonded apple brandy took some time to find a foothold after cocktail culture began to rise again.
But the most interesting historical tidbit is the debate over whether lime or lemon should be used. According to Wondrich, the earliest recipe dates back to “sometime around 1905” and calls for lemon juice.
HIT THE LAB
Adapted from Dave Wondrich’s Imbibe!
2 oz Applejack
1/2 oz lime juice
1/2 oz grenadine syrup
Combine all ingredients in a shaker. Add ice, and shake vigorously for 15 to 20 seconds or until chilled through. Strain into a coupe glass.