The Jack Rose manages to neatly combine two things that have been on my mind for some time. The sourcing of a bottle of Laird’s Applejack, and my study of ‘Fiesta’ (The Sun Also Rises) by Ernest Hemingway.
Applejack is a Calvados-style apple brandy, which has claims to being the oldest American spirit due to its roots in the colonial period. It is made by ‘jacking’ (freeze distilling) cider, and may have been discovered by North American apple farmers who found that by periodically removing the ice that formed on their cider, they could create a ‘jacked up’ drink as a result of the concentration of the remaining unfrozen alcohol.
Because ‘jacking’ could be done without any complicated distilling equipment, a rough version of applejack (and by rough we mean head-splitting) could be formed by anyone with a surplus of apples in a cold climate. Given its rough heritage, it is perhaps not surprising that applejack has been supplanted in popularity by the more cultured Calvados and traditional apple brandies. Although applejack is no longer made by leaving cider out to freeze, it does only consist of 35% apple brandy to 65% neutral grain spirit (effectively vodka), so it is easy to get snobby about its composition when compared to even its sibling Straight Apple Brandy which is 100 percent proof and 100% apple-based. Perhaps as a result, applejack is rarely found on the shelves of even the most comprehensive booze vendors in the UK, and tracking it down became somewhat of a quest. Once found, however, I found it intriguing for its history, its promise and its fruit and butterscotch/caramel notes.
As for Hemingway, well, ever since the Death in the Afternoon, I have been itching to read some more of his work, and recently picked up a copy of The Sun Also Rises on recommendation from a friend. One thing that struck me about the opening 90 pages or so (aside from the compelling imagery of Paris in the Roaring Twenties and the unadulterated coquettish nature of Brett) is the sheer volume of alcohol that is consumed. From the Fines à l’eau (cognac and water), to the whiskey (with or without soda), via the Pernod and the wine, Jake Barnes and his band of lost souls drink their way through all that mid-1920s Paris had to offer.
Of these various libations, one drink stood out as somewhat of an unknown quantity. The Jack Rose has many plausible origins, with the Jack either referring to the base ingredient, the Jacqueminot rose, Jack Laird, wrestling bartender Frank J May, Bald Jack Rose a 19th century New York gangster, or a 20th century brand of small cigars. Of these, the gangster story is most widely-renowned, and I recommend you have a good read of the story of old Jack Rose and the Becker-Rosenthal trial as you sip the protaganist’s favourite tipple:
- Add a large measure of applejack, a measure of lemon juice, a 1/4 measure of grenadine and two dashes of bitters to a shaker of ice.
- Shake well and strain into a martini glass.
- Garnish with a wedge of lemon.
A wedge?! Well, it is an oldie…
Calvados or another apple brandy can be used in place of applejack which can be a little hard to find in the UK. Sources also differ as to whether lemon or lime juice should be used, so feel free to experiment with that too. If you find the lemon wedge gets in the way when drinking, a slice of apple or a cherry is also an acceptable garnish.