I was scraping bottom a little this week for another good Applejack cocktail. It’s not that there aren’t good ones, but that most of the classics call for more exotic liquors that the average person won’t have lying around: Benedictine, Chartreuse, etc. And there’s a good reason for this: Apple brandy has a way of turning a drink into elevator jazz if you aren’t careful — decent elevator jazz, maybe, but still. For all that is interesting about apple brandy, it doesn’t have the commanding presence of a woody whisky or herbal gin or the brown and purple depths of a good cognac, all of which anchor a cocktail pretty effortlessly. It needs a little extra flourish to ensure the drink actually becomes something genuine and doesn’t just occupy the palate while you stand around waiting for the 11th floor — hence the fringe ingredients in many of the classics.
I try to offer a few recipes whenever this column picks up a new bottle of something (like apple brandy) and calling for a quarter ounce of a $60 bottle of Chartreuse rather counters that bang-for-your-buck, master-the-basics mentality, so I resolved last night to stick to stuff we’ve used before and make a cocktail suitable for this weird weather.
My first try was a modified sour with lemon juice and a dash of creme de menthe (tryna keep it fresh, yo). I did not pursue this formula further. You’re welcome.
Next I modified a perfect martini; fiddle with the formulas you best understand. There is also such a thing as the Perfect Manhattan, and I figure the flavor profile of Applejack is somewhere on the plane between gin and rye, which is why I had a pretty good inclination that this would work. It did, mostly. I found the result a little thin and a bit dry (again, Applejack needs a little something extra), and there was a slight bitterness in the aftertaste that I didn’t want.
A splash of sweetener took care of this and yielded a palatable, respectable, hell, even downright desirable inter-season drink. I’d go with honey or maple syrup. Simple syrup will work if that’s what you’ve got, but it won’t impart any additional character and as a result there won’t be the same fullness to the flavor of the drink.
I suppose it’s tough to give a recipe without a title so…
North of Ipanema
(Okay, I’m still thinking about elevator music a little. Busted. But it rings well and seems weirdly suitable to the flavors, so let’s carry on.)
2 oz Applejack, Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy, or Calvados
1/2 oz Dry Vermouth
1/2 oz Red Vermouth
1/4-1/2 oz Maple Syrup or Honey Syrup (1:1, honey:water)
2 dashes bitters (optional)
Stir and strain into a stemmed glass. Or serve it on the rocks. Hell, whatever you want — this will taste good as it dilutes, too. Sweeten it to your own taste. No garnish, but pair it with something consciously selected for a moment’s peace, like a puzzle or a good record. It fits.