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This Fall, Drink More Apple Brandy

Using apple brandy in cocktails is easy as it is delicious.
10/27/2014 01:02pm ET | Updated December 27, 2014
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Of the thousands of cocktail recipes out there, the vast majority of them have base spirits from just a handful categories: gin, rum, whiskey, tequila and vodka. But there are several unique and delicious spirits beyond these standard options that are more than worthy of being the foundation of your cocktail. One of the most deserving in my opinion, is apple brandy. I don't mean that sweet green apple liqueur they use to make Appletinis with, (the very idea!). I'm talking about a full proof, barrel-aged spirit made from fermented and distilled apples. That is apple brandy and there is nothing sweet about it.

There are two distinct styles of apple brandy, Calvados and American apple brandy - which is sometimes referred to as applejack. They're both apple brandy, just expressed in different ways. Calvados hails from the Calvados region of France, a part of Normandy, which is a bit too far north to cultivate grapes for wine and brandy but is perfect for apples and pears. It is a smooth and complex spirit that's a blend of a host of different varieties of apple - often over a hundred - and even includes a little pear, which helps keep it round and balanced, reminiscent of the exquisite brandies made in Cognac about 500 kilometers south. Calvados, like any fine brandy, is at it's best when sipped neat. Some of the best spirits I've ever tasted in any category have been Calvados.

On the other side of the pond, American apple brandy uses apples that are more homogeneous than the eclectic Calvados blends which yields a sharper, stiffer and, for lack of a better word, apple-lier spirit that drinks like a whiskey. Americans have been making apple brandy since the early colonial days, well before they made rye and bourbon. Back then thirsty colonists were having issues getting their initial booze producing efforts off the ground, so they turned to apples, of which there was no shortage of in the northeast, and made hard cider which could be then distilled into apple brandy or as they began to call it applejack. In fact, one of those original producers is still at it today. Laird and Company is based in New Jersey and has been in operation for 300 years (7 generations!), George Washington drank their apple brandy, a truly distinctive honor. Laird's is the most visible American producer of apple brandy and makes a variety of excellent products. But the category is growing and more are being released every year. Black Dirt apple brandy is a great one that comes to mind.

Using apple brandy in cocktails is as easy as it is delicious. It can be used it to spike hot (or cold) cider or to give your hard cider a little extra bite - which is an old colonial drink called a stone fence, today you might call it boilermaker. For a more sophisticated cocktail, use American brandy the way you would American whiskey in classics like the old fashioned, Manhattan or whiskey sour. When mixing with Calvados think more in the vein of Cognac, for example a side car with Calvados is called an apple car.

Here are a few of my favorite, simple, cocktails with apple brandy to keep you warm this autumn. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. I listed the American style apple brandy, as just "apple brandy" and Calvados as Calvados. "Applejack", which I've referred to a few times above, has no official legal definition as far as I can find. It's just another word for apple brandy, in addition to being a cooler one. For what it's worth however, Laird's sells a product they call applejack that is a blend of apple brandy and grain alcohol, bottled at 80 proof. What they label as apple brandy is 100% straight apple brandy. Personally, I prefer the latter for cocktails.

Applejack Old Fashioned
Taking the old fashioned and plugging in apple brandy is about as simple as cocktail creations get. But it's also about as delicious as they get. This one is easily in my top 10 cocktails of all time.

2 oz Apple Brandy - preferably something 90-100 proof. Laird's Bonded is a great option.
½ teaspoon maple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 dash aromatic bitters - I recommend Fee's Aromatic or Jerry Thomas Decanter Bitters

Stir with ice and serve on the rocks
Garnish with an orange peel

Orchard 75
A fall spin on the French 75. This is a great one for holiday parties.

1 oz apple brandy
½ oz lime juice
½ cinnamon syrup*
Champagne
Apple Slice for garnish

Shake all ingredients, except the Champagne, and strain into a champagne flute
Top with Champagne
Garnish with the apple slice

*Cinnamon Syrup
1 quart of 1:1 simple syrup
1 cup crushed cinnamon bark, or cinnamon sticks
Combine the cinnamon and simple syrup and bring it to a boil.
Remove from heat and let sit overnight (or about 6 hours), then strain out the solids and refrigerate.

Widow's Kiss
A classic from way back. It traditionally calls for Calvados but I prefer it with the combination of the two. This one is no joke, proceed with caution. Benedictine and Chartreuse are herbal liqueurs, delicious ones. If you don't have them they are a fine addition to any home bar outfitted for cocktails, look for 375ml bottles.

1½ oz apple brandy
½ oz Calvados
½ oz Benedictine
½ oz Green Chartreuse
1 dash Angostura Bitters

Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass