Apple Brandy: Newark Cocktail

When Fall arrives and blankets become a staple of my at-home fashion, my tastes turn toward barrel-aged  spirits, though this is by no means a hard and fast rule. This year we here in Seattle were treated to a strange crispness that served as a delightful interruption from our regularly scheduled Autumn full of all things waterlogged. The dry chill and the orange- and yellow-hued leaves (we even got some red ones this year!) reminded me of the many years I spent growing up and living in the Northeast. Perhaps because of this nostalgic impulse, I have been leaning toward dry crisp drinks of late, instead of hearty, bold libations that revolve around whiskey and the rich flavors of cherry and anise or the soothing warmth of spice. In my search for drinks that would attend to my craving, I found myself leaning toward the much overlooked apple brandy, most notably our domestic apple brandy, applejack.

Applejack is a spirit native to the United States and almost as old. In colonial times, apple-based spirits were made in the frozen Northeast from fermented apple cider that had gone through the process of freeze distillation, which was called "jacking." The process entails freezing a solution, such as hard cider or beer, in order to separate the alcohol from the water by taking advantage of their different freezing points. Early settlers would bury their fermented apple cider in the ground for the winter. About the time of the last freeze, they would dig it up and remove the ice, leaving a liquid that was much richer in alcohol. The idea to further distill this "low wine" version of hard cider into apple brandy was just the natural progression of a good idea.

Laird's is the oldest producer of applejack in the county. They have been producing apple brandy in America since 1698. They make several different apple-based spirits, though here in Washington, only the 80-proof applejack is readily available. I have seen their bonded apple brandy in some local bars and some of the better liquor stores. If you can find it, I would highly recommend it. The non-bonded apple brandy contains 35 percent apple distillate that has been blended with neutral grain spirits. The bonded variety is 100 percent apple brandy and, by law, 100 proof. Therefore, the apple flavor is that much more intense, and the higher proof means that the brandy can stand up to stronger ingredients in a cocktail. The non-bonded applejack is completely acceptable, though, and for years it was the only applejack I used. In many cases, it makes only a slight difference, and I have made very tasty Jack Roses, Jersey Sours, or even variations on the Stone Fence with the non-bonded applejack.  Drinks like the Applejack Old-Fashioned and the Marconi Wireless, which place a greater emphasis on the flavor of the spirit, really do shine brighter with the inclusion of the bonded Laird's. Both of Laird's products are relatively inexpensive, around $20, though the bonded will set you back a couple of dollars more.

To satisfy my applejack craving, I chose the Newark Cocktail, another fabulous cocktail that I found on Chuck Taggert's blog. The drink was created by Jim Meehan, bar manager at PDT in NYC, and an all-around heavy hitter in the bartending world. The Newark cocktail, as you may have already guessed, is another in the long line of Manhattan variations named after real estate in and around NYC that have become ubiquitous on cocktail menus.  I am not complaining--many of them are completely delicious and among my favorite style of drink, spirit-forward.

Newark Cocktail

2 ounces applejack
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
2 barspoons Fernet Branca

Stir ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Strain in a chilled cocktail glass. No garnish.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Laird's Bonded Applejack, Vya sweet vermouth, and Maraska maraschino liqueur.

The aroma was full of apples though the menthol notes of the Fernet shone through. And as expected, the apple brandy was completely recognizable and even acted as a wonderful foundation for all of the strong flavors in the glass. Initially, I noted a pleasant, mild sweetness, presumably from the maraschino and perhaps the vermouth, before the Fernet struck and my mouth was full of herbal complexity. On subsequent tastes, I noted the dry cider-like flavors becoming more prevalent throughout each sip.  This drink had a wonderful rich mouth feel that contrasted the almost astringent menthol taste concluding each sipa side effect of the Fernet. As the drink warmed the interplay between the maraschino and Fernet dominated the flavors, but in a really interesting way.  The finish was dry and kind of nutty with hints of cherry. But long after each sip it was the apple flavors that lingered, calling me back for more.