A Look at Apple Brandy: Moving Past the Spice

Before the leaves even start to turn here in Washington it seems that grocery stores are simply overflowing with apples. This is hardly surprising---apples are in season and Washington is the Apple State. With Thanksgiving rooting down the season in general, apple pie instantly pops into my mind. Apple-based spirits also  tend to get a lot of attention as well. I am a certainly guilty of consuming more apple brandy and Calvados (apple brandy made from Normand apple varietals that are then aged in French oak) in October and November. In the intervening months, I hardly ever think about either one. Sure there may be an occasion for a Stone Fence in the summer, or a Pink Lady in the spring. But fall is generally when I rediscover the deliciousness of apple brandy.

Relegating apple-based spirits to one season alone is really a shame. Recently I started asking myself why apple brandy cocktails don't play a greater role in my normal rotation. No other spirit is similarly pigeonholed. When I started recalling all of my favorite apple-brandy based cocktails, I noticed a suspicious pattern--almost all of them included what I will call "pie spices." Cloves and cinnamon, ginger and allspice, and even nutmeg and cardamom, all of these pair tremendously well with fall fruits. The cocktails that came to my mind first--Autumn Leaves, Northern Spy, Reveillon--all of them rely on this combination. Even an Applejack Old Fashioned has Angostura Bitters in it. Could my shortsightedness be related to an overdependence on apple pie flavors? Could it be that every year I just burn out on the spice quotient and take it out on the apple? The apple, such a versatile fruit, really deserves more than this. Recently I have allowed myself to learn that there are other options out there.


While it is impossible to completely mask the fruitiness of the apple in drinks that revolve around pie spices, the interplay between the ingredients is really the star. In fact, in many of these cocktails the apple merely provides the backbone that allows the spices shine. And while the brightness of the apple brandy does actually stand out in many cocktails, a large number also call for citrus. The only problem is that drinks like the Delicious Sour, the Jack Rose, and the newer Apple Jack Rabbit, while delicious, are not usually what I crave. So I decided to experiment. My inspiration came from the Vieux Carre and a recently acquisition, pamplemousse rose liqueur.

The Vieux Carre is one of my favorite cocktails. It has always reminded me of a lighter, more herbal Manhattan. A couple of years ago I was introduced to a wonderful variation by Chelsea at Sun Liquor Lounge. By swapping out the cognac for apple brandy, she created a similarly delightful cocktail. The flavor of the apple brings a wonderful fruity dimension to the cocktail and I have often returned to this variation for precisely this reason. So when I began thinking about what to pair with the apple brandy, the bright pink of the pamplemousse rose caught my eye. The rest is history. 

Lord Lambourne

1 ounce apple brandy
1 ounce rum
1 ounce Cocchi Americano
1/4 ounce pamplemousse rose liqueur
1 dash Peychaud's bitters

Combine ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange peel.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Laird's bonded apple brandy, Plantation 5-year rum, and Combier pamplemousse.


One of the greatest things about apples is their versatility. Sure things like apple pie, apple crisp, and coffee cake are what instantly come to mind when I think of apples. But the savory applications are lovely as well. Apples pair well with curry, celeriac, or even bitter greens such as escarole or arugula. Sadly, I had never thought of combining apples into cocktails with any of these flavors. It took Brian Lee to show me a more savory side to apple brandy.

Mela Seleri (inspired by Brian Lee, Canon)

1 1/2 ounces applejack
1 1/2 ounces Cocchi Americano
2 dashes celery bitters
Combine ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Laird's bonded applejack, and the Bittermens celery bitters.


Apple brandy is no stranger to herbal cocktails. Drinks like the Diamondback, combining apple brandy with green chartreuse, and the Newark, playing apple brandy off of Fernet Branca, have already established how well apple-based spirits play with herbal components. Even the Marconi Wireless, an Applejack Manhattan, depends on herbal interplay. Because I already knew that applejack worked well with Benedictine, from above, I decided to start there. But it was only when I came across a similar apple brandy recipe combining the spirit with Cynar that I started thinking about how artichokes might make applejack shine differently.

Bitter Apple (inspired by the Apple of Eden, Steven Shellenberger)

1 1/2 ounces apple brandy
3/4 ounces Cynar
1/4 ounce Benedictine
3 dashes Boker's Bitters

Combine ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Laird's bonded applejack.

1 comment:

  1. Apple is really my favorite flavor as I have tried many flavors and types of brandy but I never tasted anything like apple brandy. Please suggest me some more brandies with great flavors if you know!