Drink of the Week: The Applejack Old Fashioned

The Applejack Old Fashioned.I mentioned last week that I would be returning to the theme of that ultimate American hard liquor, applejack, for Thanksgiving weekend. And, so, here we are — using the once ubiquitous apple brandy for a variation on the ultimate American cocktail.

If anyone thinks I’m exaggerating when I refer to applejack as the ultimate American spirit, let it be known that no less a resource than Wikipedia tells us that a general named George Washington once asked a distiller named Robert Laird for the recipe for his brandy. The fact that today’s drink is made with Laird’s Applejack and not Washington’s Applejack either tells you something about General/President Washington’s famous integrity or his fear of early American intellectual property lawsuits.

Regardless, it doesn’t really get more American than that…Unless someone can find an image of John Wayne knocking back some of that ol’ applejack. And, if the Duke were to order a cocktail made with the stuff, I like to think it would be made something just like this.

The Applejack Old Fashioned

2.5 ounces applejack
1/2 teaspoon maple syrup
1 orange slice
2 teaspoons soda water
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Okay, it’s more or less your basic Old Fashioned drill, muddled orange version, with a few modifications. The most obvious change is that I’ve included an additional half ounce of booze to account for the lightness in flavor of 80 proof applejack. (If you’re lucky enough to to have Laird’s bonded 100 proof version, which I’ve yet to try, two ounces is probably more than sufficient.)

Start by muddling your orange slice in the bottom of a rocks/old fashioned glass. Add all the liquid ingredients and some very large ice cubes. Stir for a good long time to get a little water into the drink, and sip. Toast doing anything other than shopping this weekend.

*****

Most of the recipes I found for Applejack Old Fashioneds called for at east twice as much maple syrup and no orange muddling, though some did add a lemon twist to the concoction. For me, an entire teaspoon meant that the maple simply took over the drink. Many recipes also called for Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel Bitters, a variation on the Angostura/aromatic bitters theme that I found slightly over-bitter and distracting.  I’ll go with the usual, this time. (Yes, I know. When I took the picture, I didn’t know I’d end up feeling that way re: the choice of bitters!)

On the other hand, I know that orange muddling in Old Fashioneds is somewhat frowned upon in certain classic cocktail quarters these days, but I like my Old Fashioneds that way, gosh darn it. Also, cutting the maple in half and adding a bit of less concentrated sweetness from the orange seemed like the way to go for this particular drink. So did doubling the classic single teaspoon of soda water and bumping the carbonation up ever so slightly. The result was a really nice drink that is as U.S.A./American as drinks get, especially if you’re maple syrup is from Vermont and not from the oh-so-foreign climes of Canada.

 

 

  

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Drink of the Week: The Corpse Reviver #1 (Revisited)

The Corpse Reviver, Revised. Yes, we’ve been down this road before at DOTW, but our vehicle has had parts of its engine replaced. First, we covered the Corpse Reviver #2, and then we eventually got around to the far lesser known original Corpse Reviver. However, I’ve decided to take another look at the original version of the drink, owing to my recent discovery of an ingredient I’ve been shamelessly ignoring up until very recently: applejack, an American brandy that fell out of favor during prohibition.

As you may recall, the idea behind the entire Corpse Reviver family of beverages is to be, if not the hair of the dog that bit you, a big, wet kiss from the entire beast. Savoy Cocktail Book author Harry Craddock informs us that this particular Corpse Reviver is “to be taken before 11 a.m., or whenever steam and energy are needed.” Alas it contains no caffeine or B-vitamins, and I’m almost never hungover, so it provides me personally with far more relaxation than “steam.”

The Craddock Corpse Reviver recipe called for either applejack or calvados, it’s more complicated French cousin. The first time around, I went with the latter, since buying the pricey French stuff seemed like enough of an expense and most recipes I found online seemed to imply that there wasn’t much of a difference between the two brandies.

That’s all changed. As discussed previously, I’m falling hard for the one surviving applejack brand, Laird’s. Moreover, since we’re looking down the musket barrel of Thanksgiving, I’m thinking that a two week look at this very old 100% North American hard liquor is the thing to do at DOTW,

So, I’m here to tell you that, if you keep your Corpse Reviver nice and simple and use applejack and not calvados, you’ll have a drink that’s more pleasant than other versions — even if its resurrection inducing qualities remain in grave doubt.

The Corpse Reviver #1 (Revisited)
1 1/2 ounces brandy or cognac
3/4 ounce applejack
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth (preferably Noilly Pratt or something similar, maybe Martini & Rossi)

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker or, if you like, a mixing glass. Then either shake or stir — I lean towards shaking — and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Toast Walt Disney, Marvel Comics and their various descendants and imitators for their ability to revive our favorite seemingly dead fictional pals again and again and again.

*****

I tried my Laird’s Applejack laced Corpse Reviver first with the remains of my bottle of Noilly Pratt sweet vermouth and it was subtly delightful, even as it was time to toss my wonderful and hard to find half-size bottle away. I loved the simpler, less abrasive take on the first Corpse Reviver, which I think has never really taken off partly because many versions of it are more fruity and complex than drinkable.

Indeed, when I tried a higher end sweet vermouth, Dolin, it didn’t come together for me at all; nor was the bitter-bottomed Punt e Mes, a huge favorite of mine, a particular success. It really does seem as if a simpler but tasty American apple brandy also requires a simpler but tasty French sweet vermouth.

Now’s the time at Drink of the Week when we dance.

 

  

Drink of the Week: The Laphroaig Scot’s Cider

The Laphroaig Scot’s Cider. Cynics and other smart people out there might be forgiven if they assumed that drinks prompted by free booze and recipes provided by the liquor industrial complex were slightly less good than the more classic cocktails that make up the bulk of our work here at DOTW central. The fact of the matter, however, is that — for the most part, anyway — the drinks I’m pitched are crafted by some pretty talented mixologists who are using some very good products. Also, I wouldn’t be including them here if they sucked.

My personal seal of complete non-suckage very definitely applies to our first hot drink of this cool weather season, The Laphroaig Scot’s Cider. It takes the pleasantly woody and lightly smokey flavor of the rather lovely single malt Laphroaig 10-Year-Old Scotch Whisky and builds on it with a very pleasant and easy to make toddy. It’s even easier if you leave out the fancy garnish, which is nice but not essential.

The Laphroaig Scot’s Cider

2 ounces Laphroaig 10-Year-Old Scotch Whisky
1 ounce DeKuyper Mixologist Series Ginger Liqueur
6 ounces hot apple cider/apple juice
1 lemon wedge, studded with cloves (highly desirable, but not essential, garnish)

Preheat your favorite coffee mug with hot water. I simply put a cup of tap water in the microwave and zapped it for a couple of minutes as I was getting my ingredients together. (If you want a more modest, less caloric, drink and are halving these proportions, a small cup will do very nicely.)

Then get your apple cider very very hot, just about boiling even, because you’ll be adding some unheated ingredients. Empty the hot water out of the mug and replace it with your hot cider. Then add the Laphroaig, the ginger liqueur, your garnishes (if any) and sip. Toast something Scottish…Sean Connery, new Doctor Who Peter Capaldi, or poet Robert Burns, it doesn’t matter. This drink won’t gang aft agley.

(Just one question: Why are nearly all world famous Scottish celebrities men? Is being called “lass” all the time bad for your self-esteem? Weird.)

****

A word about garnishes. The original recipe for this drink calls for fresh ground cinnamon. If you’ve got some of that around, definitely give it a try. But I’m personally much too cheap and lazy to mess with that right now. However, I tried a little bit of the cheap supermarket cinnamon I had on hand and, frankly, it didn’t help. And, while I love lemon and cloves, this may be a case where a little garnish goes a long way. Some of my drinks sort of got taken over by the lemon wedge and, really, I think the Scot’s Cider works pretty well without any of the garnishes because the Laphroaig brings plenty of its own complexity.

Of course, I can’t stop you from using other brands of Scotch, or going with a liqueur brand other than the very tasty DeKuyper ginger liqueur, which was also supplied to me by the benevolent booze bribers. It might work pretty well, or it might be merely sweet.

One final point. This recipe originally called for nonalcoholic “apple cider” but, as far as I can tell, there is no clear and meaningful difference between apple juice and un-fermented cider, apart from marketing. By some definitions, including some legal ones in some states, unfiltered (cloudy) apple juice is “cider” but, here in California anyway, that’s also sometimes sold as simply “unfiltered apple juice.” I’m sure using a good, fresh unfiltered apple product will improve this drink. On the other hand, I wouldn’t waste one second worrying about whether it’s apple juice or apple cider. My educated hunch is that there is absolutely no consistent difference between the two.

  

Drink of the Week: The Brugal 1888 Maple Old Fashioned

The Brugal 1888 Maple Old Fashioned.It’s been a pretty long time since my first taste of hard liquor, and so it’s a rare thing when I try something that’s genuinely new to me. Still, when the generous gods of booze publicity saw fit to gift me with a bottle of Brugal 1888, it was the best kind of shock. Made from whole sugar cane rather than molasses, but tasting nothing like the cane derived spirit cachaça, no doubt largely due to its painstaking aging process, it’s best described as a high end rum that thinks its fine Scotch or bourbon — right down to its price tag. It includes numerous hints of flavors that range from chocolate to bracing woody notes of dad’s after shave, or something.

Okay, so I’m no better at describing the indescribable than the next writer, but this Brugal 1888 is some really interesting stuff and naturally my first thought was, “what kind of Old Fashioned would this make?” The answer was, “a pretty darn interesting one.” It got even more intriguing when I stumbled over the idea of using maple syrup instead of the usual sugar or simple syrup. It required a little pleasant experimentation, but I think I finally got this drink down.

The Brugal 1888 Maple Old Fashioned

2 ounces Brugal 1888 rum
1/4 ounce maple syrup
2 teaspoons soda water
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 orange slice

Muddle the orange slice in the bottom of rocks glass. Add the Brugal, soda water, maple syrup, and bitters along with several ice cubes. Stir the cubes and liquid for 20-30 seconds to mix your ingredients and get the drink good and cold. Sip and toast the nations of the Dominican Republic and Canada (or the state of Vermont) for giving us Brugal and maple syrup.

*****

While sipping your Brugal straight is a very adult experience, the other ingredients definitely soften the drink up pleasantly…but I think it can get a bit too soft. I originally tried it with Regan’s Orange Bitters, and then with Fee Brothers Aromatic, but neither of those outstanding products quite did the trick. The relative harshness of regular old Angostura was needed to bring back some of the edge that was lost to the maple syrup. Still, I really never had a bad experience making this drink and if you think orange bitters, or another type of aromatic bitters will work with this, be my guest.

I didn’t dare try it this, but if anyone out there is considering making this with something other than real maple syrup, just don’t. Simple syrup or sugar for a more standard Brugal Old Fashioned is great and, though I haven’t been able to try it out, agave syrup is probably okay too. Maybe honey, even. But Aunt Jemima and Mrs. Butterworth don’t belong in your cocktails.

  

Drink of the Week: The Jack Rose

the Jack Rose.Considering I’ve never noticed it on a menu, and never tried it myself until about a week ago, there’s a really good chance you’ve never had yourself a Jack Rose. In fact, this once standard drink might now be completely forgotten were it not for assorted mixed beverage historians and its appearance in two famed books: a walk-on in Ernest Hemingway’s ultra-boozy depressive classic, The Sun Also Rises, and a leading role as one of  the six basic cocktails featured in David Embury’s 1948 The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. That Embury could place this now obscure beverage alongside such ur-cocktails as the Daiquiri, the Manhattan, the Old Fashioned, and the Martini indicates that this was once a drink that appeared to have some real staying power.

So, what happened? Well, the Jack Rose is not based on whiskey, gin, or rum but on applejack, which is not a sweet cereal for kids but an American apple brandy that fell into disrepute for decades. I’m here to tell you that both the spirit and the drink are really very good — and it’s likely even better versions are out there. More on that, after the asterisks.

The Jack Rose

2 ounces applejack
1 ounce fresh lime or lemon juice
1/2 ounce grenadine
1 apple slice or cocktail cherry (optional garnish)

Combine the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake vigorously, strain into a chilled cocktail, and toast the printing press, the Internet, and all other means of storing memories. Now, nothing this good has to die forever.

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If you’ve had the French apple brandy, calvados, then you’ve had apple brandy but you haven’t had applejack. Brewed in New Jersey’s Monmouth County, Laird’s Applejack is pretty much the only game for what was once an ubiquitous American hard liquor. Apparently, part of the issue was that the traditional method of distilling hard apple cider into the applejack by freezing excess water sometimes had some seriously unfortunate chemical results. Happily, I’ve been enjoying quite a bit of Laird’s Applejack this week without the slightest threat to my life or eyesight. Indeed, I really liked the 80 proof Laird’s I was able to buy for a very reasonable price. A 100 proof version, which is very well reviewed and about $10.00 more per bottle, is theoretically available.

In any case, it’s equally good with lime or lemon juice, but don’t try a Jack Rose with pricey but much better known calvados and think you’re having a Jack Rose — a Jacques Rosé, perhaps, but not a Jack Rose. I found the calvados version of this drink a bit overdone and perfumey. With applejack, it’s a simple, balanced, refreshing drink that goes down as easy as any sophisticated cocktail you’ve ever had. It’s very nice.

I’m sure it’s possible the drink could be more fully bodied and complex with the 100 proof Laird’s. I’m also sure it could be even better with a finer grade of grenadine. Now, you can buy some very high end grenadines or you can do what all the cool cocktail kids are doing and make your own. For us poor and lazy folks, the Master of Mixes grenadine syrup is probably the best choice for about five or six bucks.

Here’s the deal. A really outstanding homemade or gourmet grenadine is mostly just a mixture of pomegranate juice and lots of sugar; most commercial grenadines seem to be a mixture of “natural and artificial flavors” and high fructose corn syrup, Master of Mixes splits the difference  with a mixture of pomegranate and cherry juice and a bit of the ol’ high fruc. I’m sure it could be improved upon, but it’s been working pretty beautifully so far in a number of cocktails here.

I know purists like David Wondrich would want me to make my own, and some day I just might. If you look around, there are plenty of recipes online if you’re so inclined — some are tantalizingly simple. However, these posts are largely dedicated to the idea that making really good cocktails at home can and should be very easy. With a decent storebought grenadine and a  tasty, inexpensive base spirit all cocktail fiends should check out, the Jack Rose is a great cocktail that you can make in about five minutes at home for, I’m guessing, less than $1.50 per drink. That’s something.

 

 

  

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