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Drink of the Week: The Country Gentleman

The Country Gentleman.Although today’s drink comes to us from David Embury’s 1940s cocktail classic, “The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks,” it doesn’t really have any particular story to go with its classy provenance or courtly name. Embury just presents it as one of a series of drinks “based on an Applejack Sour.” It’s potentially a very sweet drink, at least on paper, since it includes both simple syrup (or sugar) and a very sweet orange liqueur. Still, the notoriously booze-severe Emory cautiously approves.

“With a base liquor as pungent as applejack,” Embury notes, “and with a liqueur as sharp as curacao… such addition may be possible within certain limits without rendering the cocktail too sickish sweet. With a bland liquor, such as gin or white label rum, and with a heavy fruit liqueur such as peach or apricot, this would be wholly impossible.”

On the whole, I don’t disagree. It’s a reasonably well balanced drink. Still, especially as I tend to be a bit of a baby about very tart flavors, I had a hard time finding a mix that was entirely satisfactory to me personally. Nevertheless, if you don’t mind strong citrus notes playing alongside the still under-utilized family of apple brandy boozes, this one might well be for you.

The Country Gentleman

2 ounces apple brandy or Laird’s Applejack
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce orange curacao
1/4 ounce simple syrup (or 1 one teaspoon, slightly rounded, superfine sugar)

Combine the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Contemplate the likelhiood that, while comparing apples and oranges might not make a whole lot of sense, combining apple-derived and citrus flavors is at least worth considering.

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My initial reaction to trying out a Country Gentleman was that it was a perfectly nice drink. A bit sharp, like Mr. Emory warned me, but I also thought that the 1/2 ounce of lemon juice was perhaps not fully counterbalanced by the sweetness of the curacao and simple syrup. Doubling up the sweetener, however, made the drink a little too bland. Doubling the curacao was worse, making for an oddly caustic nectar that I doubt anyone, anywhere, would enjoy. Switching from simple syrup to a roughly equivalent amount of superfine sugar made very little or no difference. (I thought “very little”; my in-house guinea pig didn’t notice a difference at all.) I also tried out an alternative Country Gentleman recipe, which was no better and maybe a hair worse.

Then, I tried messing around with my choice of apple liquors. I had started with Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy, the contemporary cocktail snob’s 100 proof default for classic apple liquor drinks. That was fine, though having the Country Gentleman kill my bottle of merely 80 proof calvados, the French equivalent preferred by Mr. Emory back in the day, may have been a very slight improvement. However, when I went a bit lower-end and used Laird’s Applejack, the result was actually very, very nice. Not gangbusters, maybe, but by far the most drinkable version of the Country Gentleman I had tried up to that point.

It’s worth noting, at this point, that some purists might well argue that Laird’s Applejack is not actually apple brandy at all, but an apple brandy-derived hard liquor that has, for all intents and purposes, been watered down to its affable 80 proof state. Screw them. It works great in this drink.