Let us start with the Applejack Cocktail’s humble beginnings. This sophisticated tipple, and its cousin, the Jack Rose, have their lineage in good old-fashioned rotgut.
Some unrecognized genius over 200 years ago realized that fermented apple cider (with an alcohol content of about eight percent) could be “jacked” up by leaving it outside in cold weather to freeze, thereby using temperature to separate the frozen water (aka ice) from the alcohol. With the ice strained out of the mixture, leaving the remaining ethyl alcohol, the resulting liquid could top 80 proof.
That sort of no-brainer applejack no doubt appealed to someone most likely cleaning a musket on a dusty front porch with a hunting hound named Blue snoring by his side. Meanwhile, an early colonial family, the Lairds, gave the recipe for their refined version of applejack to George Washington, the father of apparently many things. This spirit continued in popularity right through the 1920s with the classic Jack Rose Cocktail. Who knows to what heights applejack would have ascended, but a little thing called the Noble Experiment — Prohibition — hopped onto the scene to muck up the whole business.
It was back to the cellar, and home-brewed applejack was revived as “Jersey Lightning” or, less delicately, the “essence of lockjaw.” Applejack, like “bathtub gin,” was originally reviled, but just as gin has made a stellar comeback, applejack done right could also make for a stunning array of fine cocktails.
With apple season upon us, don’t even think about making straight applejack on your own. The Laird family product is still available, along with their aged apple brandy, which, like France’s Calvados, is a subtle and complex blend. Naturally, there are many variations of the Applejack Cocktail. Aberrations include a mix of Jack D. and Sour Apple Pucker. If you are old enough to drink, don’t drink this one. It might be preferable to chewing on an athletic sock, but not by much.
Lately we’ve heard a great deal about Joe: Joe Six Pack and Joe the Plumber. But do you remember Joe the Bartender? Jackie Gleason polishing glasses while urging Crazy Guggenheim to sing number 36 from the juke box? No matter. In this time when we are all supposed to be dumbing down to the level of gerbils, you, my friends, can do your civic duty to raise applejack, a lowly and traditional American spirit, into an elitist one.
Joe, whoever you are, this Jack is for you.
Food Affinities: bacon-wrapped scallops or simple thick-cut potato chips with a creamy blue-cheese dip will cut the tartness of the applejack cocktail. If you are making applejack in your basement, however, pork and beans straight from a can would also do in a pinch.
Recipe: Applejack Cocktail (Hair of the Dog)