I am well-known to despise the cooler months. Another of my well-known qualities: excusing fall and winter's behavior with the foods and drinks I get to enjoy because of them. In truth, fall is Applejack's season and has been for some time -- not just for me, but for America.
Does that sound ridiculous? Absolutely. But by virtue of being a "melting pot," a (usually) amicable blending of the many varied cultures that make up our history as a nation, we get very few things to call our own. We like to claim baseball, jazz, grits -- so let's start talking about an original and uniquely American spirit, Applejack.
Applejack is brandy distilled from (duh) apples and it was once our nation's most popular booze. It tastes like what would happen if you made whiskey from an apple and then wrapped yourself in a blanket made of it. The fabled Johnny Appleseed was once the spirit's spokesman (no, seriously), and most folks made it from apple wine by freeze-distilling it in their back yards. This was both a great way to use up surplus apples and to get pleasantly drunk. And it is exactly what Alberta food nerd and blogger Kevin Kossowan recreates in the amazing video below.
So what should you do with this historic ingredient? That partially depends on the type that you've got in your hands. Regular old blended Applejack is excellent in cocktails and Hot Toddies. The sophisticated aged cousin, Laird's Old Apple Brandy is delicious on the rocks, although potent, so proceed with caution. My personal favorite, Laird's Bottled In Bond Straight Apple Brandy is what I use in an Applejack cocktail when I want a little extra kick -- "Bottled In Bond" means that it's 100 proof, so do not blow your face off with it.
In our house, we like to make Applejack Old Fashioneds, Applejack Manhattans (either full Applejack, or half and half with Rye), but far and away my favorite cocktail for this spirit is the Jack Rose. It is very difficult to have just one of these, and after you make your own grenadine for the first time, I promise you will never go back to the red sugar syrup you're used to.
The Jack Rose
2 ounces Applejack
1 ounce lime juice
1/2 ounce grenadine (Homemade, you guys. I insist. Combine equal parts unsweetened pomegranate juice and sugar in a mason jar. Shake the hell out of it, until the sugar dissolves. BOOM, you have grenadine.)
Shake well with cracked ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.