It’s no surprise October is National Applejack Month. No other American spirit is so associated with autumn, each crisp sip redolent of harvest time. Applejack, the name borne of the colonial practice of concentrating cider through freeze distillation (i.e., leaving it out in the cold) or “jacking,” has been available commercially in the United States almost since the United States opened for business.
What is a surprise is my newfound ability to acquire the good stuff. In my local supermarket yet.
Laird & Company have long been America’s preeminent producer of applejack, which is apple brandy blended with neutral spirits. The country’s oldest licensed distillery also makes a 100 proof bottled in bond apple brandy. The uncut version has a brilliant flavor, not on par with Calvados – the French apple brandy that is the finest liquid known to man – but close. For years it was only available on the East Coast. Here’s how it good it is: it’s worth checking a suitcase for. I was once asked by the bartenders at New York’s Death + Company to courier several bottles as a gift to the team at the Zig Zag Café here in Seattle. I did so without keeping one for myself. Lousy Catholic school education.
The Jack Rose is the best-known applejack cocktail. I wanted to inaugurate this bottle with something different. The Newark is the brainchild of Jim Meehan and John Deragon of New York’s PDT. It’s another spin on the Brooklyn, this one not named after a neighborhood in that borough but the largest city in the state Laird’s calls home.
The cocktail uses applejack for a base instead of rye while keeping the Brooklyn’s maraschino. In place of Amer Picon – another bottle that led to a trip to baggage claim – is Fernet Branca. The Newark has a complex, almost rolling flavor, yielding different notes as it settles. The unmistakable presence of Fernet frequently predominates, held in place by the maraschino. The taste of apple, even with the high-octane Laird’s, is always present but forever distant, like a memory. A fitting profile for a fall cocktail non pareil.
Jim Meehan and John Deragon, PDT, New York
2 oz. applejack, ideally Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy
1 oz. sweet vermouth
¼ oz. maraschino
¼ oz. Fernet Branca
Stir. Strain. No garnish.
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