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Using Apple Booze to Make Delicious Cold-Weather Cocktails

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An apple a day keeps the doctor away, or so they say. But what if you prefer your apples in boozy, liquid form? They won't keep the doctor away, but apple cider and apple brandy can help you add variety to your bar menu during the cold weather months.

Cider is a drink made from crushed and fermented fruit, usually apples. Likewise, brandy is distilled from fruit, but if it is made from anything other than grapes, it is specified as such—hence, apple brandy.

Here in the U.S., apple brandy has been produced since colonial times. In the early days, farmers would let apples ferment, then put the fermented juice in a barrel outside when it got cold. Since the freezing point of water is higher than that of alcohol, the water in the mixture would freeze. The farmers would scoop the ice out, leaving the alcohol behind. Known as “jacking,” this process left behind a higher proof product referred to as "applejack."

Laird & Company, the oldest licensed distillery in the U.S., still produces apple brandy. The company was formally established in 1780. Apparently, George Washington liked their brandy so much that he requested the recipe, made his own, and then sold it himself.

After Prohibition, the nation’s tastes started to shift towards lighter spirits. By the 1960s, Laird & Company was working with the U.S. government to introduce regulations for a new spin on an old product: applejack. The guidelines say this spirit must be made from at least 20 percent apple brandy that’s been stored in oak for no less than two years. To create a lighter profile, the brandy is blended with neutral spirit.

There’s one more important type of apple brandy that's worth mentioning: Calvados. Like tequila and champagne, Calvados is a legally protected appellation, which means that it must come from a specific geographic location (for Calvados, this is the Lower Normandy region of France). It also must be aged in oak casks for at least two years. As a result, Calvados tends to taste oakier and slightly less apple-y than its American counterpart.

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The most famous applejack cocktail is the Jack Rose. Its ingredients are simple: grenadine, lime juice, and applejack, but its history is a bit more convoluted. As the most likely story goes, Jack Rose was the star witness in a trial that wrongfully convicted a NYPD officer of hiring a hit man. The cop went to the electric chair, and Rose started a catering company.

Though it’s possible Rose created the drink (or named it after himself), it’s just as likely that someone was playing around with the names of the base spirit and the color of the cocktail and put them together as Jack Rose.

Jack Rose

3/4 oz lime juice
1/2 oz grenadine
2 oz applejack

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake vigorously until chilled through. Strain into a chilled coupe glass.

Applejack Rabbit

The Applejack Rabbit is a cocktail that dates back to the 1930s, a time before “applejack” and “apple brandy” referred to different spirits. It’s tasty, simple, and is one of the few drinks that manages to successfully incorporate maple syrup.

1/2 oz Grade B Maple Syrup (grade B is actually best, the grades refer to when the syrup is harvested)
3/4 oz lemon juice
3/4 oz orange juice
2 oz high proof apple brandy

Combine in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake until chilled through, about 15-18 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe.

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What's the Right Way to Make a Sazerac?
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If you pronounce New Orleans "New Or-leens," or if you can’t get enough of those Big Ass Beers sold on Bourbon Street, you’re probably not actually from New Orleans. But if you’re feeling adventurous and missing the Big Easy, a Sazerac might be just what the doctor ordered. 

‘Tails and Stories

A few hundred years ago, you might have actually gotten a doctor’s order for a Sazerac. One of the drink's origin stories claims that it was invented by New Orleans apothecary Antoine Amedie Peychaud. According to this tale, Mr. Peychaud mixed up the drink with his eponymous bitters and served it in an egg coupe in his shop. 

A more likely origin story states that the drink was invented by a different New Orleans resident (though in the same neighborhood). Around 1850, Sewell T. Taylor sold his bar to Aaron Bird and went into the import business. One of his products happened to be Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils brandy. While Taylor was importing, Bird renamed his bar the Sazerac House and began serving a house cocktail that featured Taylor’s brandy and, as the story goes, bitters made by his neighborhood apothecary, Mr. Peychaud.

In the 1870s and 1880s, Europe's grape crops were decimated by an infestation of American aphids. In just four years, French wine production was cut by 67 percent, and even the most dedicated cognac drinkers switched to whiskey. For New Orleans, that meant switching to rye whiskey that was shipped to the city down the Ohio River and through the Mississippi. Thomas Handy, who owned the Sazerac Bar during that time period, likely switched the drink's main ingredient. This take on the signature cocktail is the one that found its way into the 1908 edition of The World's Drinks and How To Mix Them, with the recipe calling for "good whiskey," not Sazerac cognac. 

The origins of the Sazerac’s name is vague. It’s possible that it was a nod to the fact that it was the bar's house cocktail, but it’s also possible that it’s a reference to the brand of brandy. In those days, “cocktail” referred to a specific alcoholic drink format. As put forth by The Balance and Columbian Repository in 1806, a “cock-tail” is “a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.” If you wanted this type of drink with whiskey in it, you would ask for a Whiskey Cocktail. If you wanted Sazerac brandy (until the aphid plague, at least), you'd ask for a Sazerac cocktail.

Hit the Lab

Sazerac Recipe:

2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
.25 oz simple syrup (or a sugar cube)
2 oz good rye whiskey (use the good stuff)
lemon peel for garnish

Place the sugar cube into an absinthe-rinsed rocks glass. Dash the bitters onto the cube and muddle. Add whiskey and one large ice cube and stir to combine. Garnish with a lemon twist.

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Flickr User Janice Waltzer // CC BY 2.0
What’s the Right Way to Make a Caipirinha?
Flickr User Janice Waltzer // CC BY 2.0
Flickr User Janice Waltzer // CC BY 2.0

The Rio Olympics start in just a few weeks, and all eyes are on Brazil. To celebrate, we decided to focus on the country’s most famous cocktail creation: the Caipirinha.

In form, the Caipirinha is pretty much a Brazilian Daiquiri. It’s made from sugar, lime, and cachaça. Cachaça could be considered a cousin to rum, but it is altogether unique. While most rum is made from molasses, cachaça is made from fresh sugarcane juice.

Unlike rum, which can be made anywhere, cachaça can only be made in Brazil. Though it’s often sold unaged, it is usually matured in woods that are native to Brazil, like peanut and balm. As with wine, beer, and whiskey, different kinds of wood affect the product inside differently.

The classifications of cachaça aren’t based on the type of cask in which it’s aged. It can get a bit confusing: Spirit that is not stored in wood or is kept in stainless steel vats before it’s bottled is often called branca (white). But cachaça aged in wood that doesn’t color the liquor may also be labeled as branca. This category goes under several other names, including prata (silver) and clássica (classic).

Cachaça that’s stored or aged in wood is usually labeled as amarela (yellow), in reference to its color. These may also be labeled as ouro (gold). Envelhecida (aged) cachaça, a subtype of amarela, is a bit more involved: it’s considered aged if more than 50 percent of the content of the bottle has been aged for at least a year in a barrel that’s 700 liters or smaller.

Cachaça is the “third most produced distilled drink in the world,” according to Alcohol In Latin America: A Social and Cultural History. Though more than 5000 brands existed in 2008, it was relatively ignored outside of Brazil until the recent resurgence of craft cocktails. In fact, until 2013, it had to be labeled “Brazilian rum” to be imported into the U.S. As a result, it’s often mistaken by many people for being a type of rum.

Unfortunately, we don’t really know anything definite about the origins of the Caipirinha. Like the Mojito and the Old Fashioned, the formula was perhaps first used in folk medicine. Carlos Lima, the executive director of IBRAC (the Brazilian Institute of Cachaça) told Casa e Jardim that a mix of lime, garlic, and honey with a pour of cachaça was probably used in São Paulo around 1918 as a remedy for the Spanish Flu.

As the story goes, someone eventually decided to skip the garlic and honey. Then, to balance the acidity of the lime, sugar was added. Over time, the drink spread into bars, ice entered the equation, and it became the Caipirinha we know today.

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Like the Mojito, the classic Caipirinha recipe is quite simple, but it’s also been the subject of many, many variations. We’ve included the International Bartenders Association (IBA) recipe as well as a modern take on the drink.

Caipirinha
Modified from the IBA website.

2 ounces Cachaça
1/2 of a lime
1 tablespoon sugar

Muddle lime and sugar in an Old Fashioned glass. Fill with ice and pour cachaça over it. Stir and enjoy.

Prata B. (Puerto Rico Asta Ah Brazil)
Recipe by Luis Ramos, bar manager of Bourbon and Branch in San Francisco.

1 3/4 ounces Avua Prata Cachaça
3/4 ounce lime juice
3/4 ounce pineapple gomme syrup
1/2 ounce Pedro Ximenez sherry
1/4 ounce Punt e Mes
Grated nutmeg, lime zest, lime wheel for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a Collins glass. Add crushed ice and stir until glass frosts. Top glass with grated nutmeg, lime zest, and lime wheel.

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