Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Bottle Buy: Laird's Applejack

Laird's Applejack

America was late to the cocktail game. We have a good excuse, having not existed until 1776 and all, but it's still a fact. We made a lot of rum in the late 1700's and plenty of whiskey in the 1800's, but then we decided to get all prudish and prohibit alcohol entirely for 13 years. Of course, a surprising number of cocktails seem to hail from that period - adversity is the mother of progress, as they say.

A lot of the spirits I've talked about originate in Europe, but Laird's Applejack is as American as it gets. Established in 1780 in Scobeyville, New Jersey, by Revolutionary War veteran Robert Laird, Laird's was the first distillery licensed by the United States government. George Washington personally wrote to the Laird family asking for their Applejack recipe. Abraham Lincoln served Applejack in his tavern in New Salem, Illinois (TIL Abraham Lincoln ran a tavern). Lyndon Johnson gave a case of Applejack to the Soviet Premier in 1967. You might as well be drinking distilled Bald Eagle tears.

In fact, Applejack is made from (big surprise) apples. During the American colonial period, no one in New England was really growing enough grain for whiskey, but apples were abundant. The Laird family myth is that William Laird, a Scotsman and distiller who immigrated to the US in 1698, switched from distilling Scotch to Applejack for this reason. 

What is sold as Applejack today is actually a blend of 35% apple brandy and 65% neutral grain spirits. The Laird family says this reflects a trend towards lighter drinks in the 1970's. The original applejack that Washington drank is now sold as Laird's Apple Brandy, a much pricier product. Some recipes will specifically call for Applejack, and others for Apple Brandy, but subbing in the Applejack for the brandy will still give you close to the original taste.

For more on the Laird family and their distillery, check out this New York Times piece.

Laird's Applejack

Price: $17-20
Alcohol content: 40%
Popular cocktails: Jack Rose, Applejack Old Fashioned, American Trilogy, Honeymoon

Jack Rose

The Jack Rose is the quintessential Applejack cocktail, and (what do you know?) it includes grenadine. The finished cocktail is tart and sweet. The pomegranate really helps bring out the apple flavors. Yes, it's very, very pink. But it bridges the gap between girly cocktail and classic cocktail quite nicely.

History: There are a few different backstories floating around for the Jack Rose, but in his book Imbibe! David Wondrich states with confidence that it was invented by Frank J. May, a bartender at Gene Sullivan's Cafe in Jersey City, around 1905. May's nickname was Jack Rose, and the cocktail was quite appropriate given that it was made with Applejack and is rose-colored.

The confusion arises from another fellow named Jack Rose who popped up in the news in 1912. Bald Jack Rose was a hit man who killed a gambler named Herman Rosenthal. Rose then helped pin the hit on a member of the NYPD's anti-gambling squad, who was almost certainly innocent. The drink was not named after him, or invented by him, but it seems destined to be associated with him.

The Jack Rose also has quite the literary resume. It was a favorite cocktail of John Steinbeck, and appears in The Sun Also Rises by author and drinker extraordinaire Ernest Hemingway.

Jack Rose

Jack Rose

2 oz. Laird's Applejack
3/4 oz. grenadine
3/4 oz. lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake until well chilled. Strain into a cocktail or coupe glass. Garnish with a cherry or a slice of apple, if desired.

Recipe adapted from The PDT Cocktail Book.

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