The term “applejack” is hard to define. I have read or heard several different definitions. One source says apple jack is made by freeze distillation – the process of taking hard apple cider and sitting it outside on a sub-freezing night. When the water freezes, only the alcohol remains liquid and you pour that off to become applejack. It is also defined as unaged apple brandy in some sources. Another definition is that it is apple brandy aged in used whiskey barrels. Others say it is just another term for apple brandy. In any case, apple brandy can be used to make these cocktails.
Before Prohibition, apple and other fruit brandies were very popular in the United States. In fact, fruit brandy would cost more than whiskey by the drink at your local tavern or saloon. Kentucky and Indiana had a thriving apple brandy industry at that time. These distilleries were small distilleries owned by the person who owned the orchard or was supplied with fruit by neighbors. Prohibition closed down these small distilleries and farm distilleries were too small to be profitable to restart after repeal.
World War Two also caused many varieties of apple to become lost as the government encouraged the growth of only certain varieties made for eating. Cider apples are tart and rarely make good eating apples and many of these trees were lost, cider and brandy making became more and more difficult. The industry is slowly coming back, but unlike whiskey where grain can be harvested the same year it is planted, it takes several years for trees to provide enough fruit to make cider for distillation.
These cocktail recipes come from the book “The Ideal Bartender” by Tom Bullock, printed in 1917. Bullock was a one-time bartender in Louisville’s Pendennis Club and is often credited with creating their version of the Old Fashioned Cocktail. He moved to St. Louis at the end of the 19th century and continued to bartend in that city. While there, Bullock wrote this excellent cocktail book. It is one of the few books that I have found with drinks made with applejack. Here are the recipes:
Apple Jack Cocktail
Fill a large bar glass ¾ full of shaved ice. 3 dashes gum syrup. 3 dashes raspberry syrup. 1 ¼ jiggers applejack. Shake: strain into cocktail glass and serve with a piece of lemon peel twisted on top.
Fill large bar glass with shaved ice. 2 teaspoons Bar sugar, dissolved in a little water. ¼ juice of 1 lemon. 3 dashes Curacao. 4 dashes of any fruit syrup. 1 jigger applejack brandy. Stir; dress with fruits; serve with straws.
Fill large bar glass ¾ full shaved ice. 2 teaspoons bar sugar, dissolved in a little water. 3 dashes lemon or lime juice. 1 jigger applejack. Stir well; strain into Sour Glass; dress with fruit and berries and serve.
Jersey Lightning Cocktail
Use large mixing glass; fill with lump ice. 1 jigger applejack brandy. 1 pony Italian Vermouth. Stir well; strain and serve in a cocktail glass.
I hope you enjoy these cocktail recipes. Apple brandy is becoming more popular as more artisan distillers are making it. As it becomes easier to get a fine quality apple brandy, more and more bartenders will start making cocktails with it as an ingredient. Fruit brandies have a bright future ahead of them.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller