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Weekend Cocktail: The Jack Rose

The Jack Rose is a cocktail that will warm you as the seasons change.

We’re well into the fall, and for those of us lucky enough to experience a seasonal change (so sorry, Florida) it’s an invigorating time. It’s not too cold for many of us yet, though in the mornings we might be seeing frost. We’ve broken out the sweaters and the light jackets but haven’t yet put away the short sleeves.

Many choose to spend an October afternoon in their local pumpkin patch or apple orchard. I’m of the belief that the further divorced we are from our agrarian roots in this country, the deeper the satisfaction of returning to the fields and engaging in a voluntary harvest. Manual labor is at its most enjoyable when it is entirely to our benefit and our livelihood doesn’t depend upon it.

Moderation usually fails me in these instances. It seems that whenever we go apple-picking, I come away with my own body weight in apples. We spend the next few weeks laboring over pies and apple-butter, which are consumed without a thought as to whether my swimsuit will fit again, come summer.

What better accompaniment to a full day and a chilly night than a cocktail that relies on a bountiful crop of apples? Moderation usually fails me there, too.

The Jack Rose

  • 2 oz. Laird’s Applejack (more on this below)
  • 1 oz. fresh lime juice (or lemon if you prefer – both work)
  • 1/2 oz. grenadine

Pour ingredients into shaker over cracked ice. Shake vigorously until the contents are well and truly cold, then strain into a cocktail glass. You may garnish with a cherry and a thin apple slice, but this is strictly optional.

The Jack Rose goes down easy. The Applejack builds a pleasant base of understated apple which is punched up nicely by the sour citrus. There is a satisfying pucker that puts me in mind of biting into a granny smith. It avoids the harsh artificiality of green apple candies, for which I have a longstanding and irrational hatred (any decent green candy should be lime, I think you’ll agree). The addition of grenadine achieves a rosy glow and smooths out any of the remaining rough edges. As an aside, if you can find or make it then go for a real grenadine rather than the Rose’s. Rose’s will do, though, and I used it here.

If this mix comes on a bit too strong for your taste, you can always follow the classic David Embury formula. My wife preferred it this way, though I think it might be too bland for a modern palate. That, or I have a previously undiscovered weakness for the occasional bout of unsubtlety. For quick reference, that formula is:

  • 8 parts Applejack
  • 2 parts lime juice
  • 1 part grenadine

Prepared as above.

For whatever reason, the Jack Rose has not enjoyed the same boost to its reputation as have some of the other rediscovered classic cocktails. Rare is the establishment that features it on the menu, though you’d no doubt have better luck in a city than in my neck of the woods. Web results are comparatively slim and whenever someone does seem to write about it they are sure to mention its connection to The Sun Also Rises (and now I have, too). Hemingway did us a service by crafting that alcohol-soaked time capsule, no doubt, but there are more interesting things about this drink than its mention in a novel about miserable souls fighting over some dame who wants to play the field.

In my young career as a boozer, I came across references to Applejack in Tom Bullock’s The Ideal Bartender, which was printed with a handy glossary of terms for the somewhat outdated concoctions and ingredients in which he trafficked. Applejack was one such; from there I became curious about its application in other drinks and shortly discovered the cocktail featured here.

While it’s purely speculation based on my experience, I’d guess that not many people are as familiar with its main ingredient as they should be, and this has kept the Jack Rose from attaining more prominence. Despite centuries of history behind it, Applejack or “Jersey Lightning” had nearly fallen off the radar altogether. Until very recently, only the Laird company was still making it in any appreciable quantity.

This may be because over time the traditional method of distilling Applejack became impractical. From the 1600s to the advent of modern industry, it was made by freeze-distilling hard apple cider. By way of a grossly oversimplified explanation, vats of the stuff were left out during the winter, then “jacked” to remove any ice that formed (leaving a distilled spirit). Modern Applejack is not produced this way, which has benefits for both the quantity and quality of the product. As a blend of apple brandy and neutral spirits, the modern 80 proof drink can hold its own with brown liquors (and even replace them in some cocktails).

It’s a fantastic beverage, well worth keeping to hand in your own home as fall moves into winter. You needn’t take my word for it, either. No less a discerning tippler than George Washington once requested (and received) the recipe for Applejack, and I make it a policy never to question the taste of gentlemen of his stature.

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