Friday, July 06, 2012

Cocktail of the Week: The Jack Rose

Gather ‘round, children. (Editor’s note: Children should not be reading Cocktail of the Week posts.) I am about to instruct you in how to make a cocktail incorrectly. Because there are times when incorrect is better than nothing.

The Jack Rose has an illustrious history. Jake Barnes downs one with George, the barman at the Hotel Crillon, in Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. David Embury cites it as one of his six basic cocktails from which all goodness flows in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. The other five, for those scoring along at home, are the Martini, the Manhattan, the Daiquiri, the Sidecar and the Old-Fashioned. In the intervening years, it would seem, Mr. Rose has been lapped by the field.

By rights the drink should be an American perennial considering that the central ingredient is applejack, a domestically produced “cyder spirit” made from, you guessed it, apples. The principal producer of applejack is Laird & Company, the pride of Monmouth County, New Jersey. They counted George Washington as a loyal customer, made applejack for troops during the Revolutionary War, and have been commercially selling it since 1780.

For a time the Jack Rose was thought to be named for East Coast underworld smoothie “Bald Jack” Rose, or a Jersey City bartender known by that handle even though it wasn’t his name. In The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book (1935), Albert Stevens Crockett states that the drink, when properly prepared, has the same coloring as a Jacquemot rose and should hence be the Jacque Rose. I’m with them what belly up to the bar called Occam’s Razor: the drink is made with applejack, and is rose-colored. Mystery solved.

Ingredient #1, obviously, is applejack. Embury believed that the Jack Rose’s lack of popularity even in 1948, when his book was first published, stemmed from the absence of “an apple brandy made with the same loving care as cognac.” At present, Laird’s makes a 100 proof bonded applejack that might very well have met with Embury’s approval. It packs a punch as well as a bold, crisp taste. Sadly, it’s impossible to find outside the Tri-State area. I have personally ferried bottles from the East Coast to Seattle, even though Washington State is lousy with apples. I have it on the authority of bartender extraordinaire Murray Stenson – profiled in the current issue of Imbibe magazine! – that if you don’t have Laird’s bonded, there is absolutely no point in making a Jack Rose. But I wanted one, and settled for Laird’s readily available 80 proof variety. (Note that you can substitute the French apple brandy Calvados. Also note that many bartenders will reduce the amount of applejack when lucky enough to be using Laird’s bonded.)

Ingredient #2 is lemon juice. Unless you prefer lime, as some do, to serve as bulwark against –

Ingredient #3, grenadine. Customarily it’s in equal proportion to the citrus, which certainly would make sense if I were using, say, the house-made grenadine at the Zig Zag Café. I’ve sampled that on its own, and would drink it by the glass, pour it on top of ice cream, fill a waterbed with it. I’d have considered that amount had I prepared my own grenadine by combining pomegranate syrup and superfine sugar. What I had on hand, though, was the bottled kind, perfectly acceptable by the spoonful but a little too cloying in this quantity. And as I said, I really wanted a Jack Rose. So I adjusted accordingly, and that’s reflected in the recipe below. The cocktail was still a satisfying one, the bite of the apple evident over the tartness of the lemon, the grenadine providing color and a dash of sweetness. My advice is to have a Jack Rose made the right way, by a professional and with Laird’s finest product, to understand why Embury placed it his pantheon. Once you do, even pale imitations will occasionally hit the spot.

The Jack Rose (beggars not choosers version)

2 oz. applejack
.75 oz. lemon juice
.50 oz. grenadine

Shake. Strain. No garnish.