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Apple brandy is, perhaps, the most American of American spirits. We all know the story of Johnny Appleseed, who was, in reality, an early American capitalist who planted apple trees so he could make booze, and it was a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Americans have been making spirits from apples as far back as the 1600s, and the tradition continues today, but the early settlers, and Mr. Appleseed himself, might not recognize the product were they presented a glass of modern apple brandy. But what is apple brandy, and why do we confuse it with so many other things?
Confusing apple brandy with Calvados is understandable, they are both apple spirits, but Calvados, in that typical French way, is strictly defined by lots of rules that maintain the quality and consistency of what’s often considered an elegant and sophisticated product. Indeed, Calvados is an elegant and sophisticated apple spirit, but it’s made only in France, while American apple brandy is made with American apples and more process variety than French law allows for Calvados. This variety is, however, another source of confusion.
Often called applejack, modern apple brandy is actually brandy, not applejack, although we use the names synonymously. Applejack is made by a process called “jacking” wherein fermented cider is left outside in Winter. Once fully chilled, the part that didn’t freeze, the applejack, is drained into a jug and consumed without aging. While it sounds clever, it’s a harsh beverage requiring the fortitude of a pioneer. It’s reputation as an undesirable drink, suitable for the indiscriminate and uneducated palate, is deserved.
Today, applejack is, thankfully, no longer made. Even distillers like Laird’s, America’s first distiller, in business since the 17th century, no longer use the process although they still market products labeled Applejack. Modern “applejack” is made like any other apple brandy, in a still and barrel aged. Of course, it’s dubious reputation caused apple brandy a fall in popularity, but in recent years, new specimens have appeared, and the spirit’s place in the market is rising accordingly.
Local distillers have embraced the spirit, and, in Portland, we’re spoiled for choice. For this recipe, we’re using Clear Creek 2 Year Apple Brandy. This is the same stuff we use in The Diamondback, only this time we’re using it as a base spirit. You can use Clear Creek, or whatever apple brandy you prefer, in place of Calvados, or applejack, but you can also use it in place of bourbon, which is how we started with the Everything Nice. Apple and cinnamon simply work, and while cinnamon also works with bourbon, we genuinely like that familiar apple/cinnamon flavor, which, in this cocktail, comes from cinnamon syrup.
Making cinnamon syrup is not difficult at all. It’s simple syrup, cooked with some cinnamon sticks, and, as a side benefit, makes your kitchen smell like October. We finish the Everything Nice with some lemon and a bit of Cointreau for a crisp, refreshing sour that will remind you of apple season all year long.
Break the cinnamon into several pieces. They don’t have to be small pieces, just break them apart. We wrap ours in a paper towel, and give the bundle one whack with a meat tenderizer. That’s broken enough.
Put the cinnamon pieces in a pan with the water and sugar, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves.
Remove from the heat and let cool. Pour into a jar, and let stand overnight. In the morning, strain into a bottle, and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
Shake with ice and serve up. No garnish.