The cooling air and changing leaves call for an appropriate tipple. What could be more autumnal than a glass of apple brandy?
Illustration by John Molesworth
Few portions of the calendar provide so much diversity of dress as does the stretch between summer’s twilight and the back end of fall. During this early chapter of autumn, you may find yourself wearing a flannel overshirt with a poplin button-down one day, and a chunky roll neck jumper under a houndstooth jacket the next.
But when it comes to drink, this shoulder season can feel a bit confounding. The nights have not yet grown cold enough to merit the peaty burst of an Islay scotch, and the thought of tipping back a Daiquiri while wearing corduroy just feels wrong.
As ever, ale can serve as a four-season pleaser. But if you want to sip on something that feels attuned to the crisp, balmy days you’re presently experiencing, reach for a glass of apple brandy.
Apple brandy is the “other” brown spirit. It may appear cosmetically identical to whisky in the glass, but all it takes is a quick nosing to perceive its very different character. Rather than the smoke of scotch or the woodsy vanilla of bourbon, you’ll be greeted by the warm, baking spice aromas that most typically announce the arrival of a warm apple pie.
On the palate, you’ll likely discover flavours that recall whisky—vanilla and oak if it’s been barrel-aged, perhaps toffee and caramel—but packaged into the deal will be that unmistakable fruitiness that comes from biting into a plump, shiny apple just about to fall from its branch.
In this way, apple brandy is able to reap the rewards of the present season and the promises of those that preceded it. Sipping a glass of it neat can capture the experience of visiting an apple orchard mid-autumn, only with much less physical exertion.
Of course, there’s more than just one type of apple brandy. France has its earthy Calvados, which is to apple brandy what Cognac is to grape brandy. It can be made only within three government-deemed appellation d'origine contrôlée zones in Normandy, without the use of added sugars. All Calvados must be aged for at least two years, and some sub-styles incorporate pears into the distillate.
The oldest distiller in the United States is Laird & Company, which has been making apple brandy since before the American Revolution and counted George Washington as a client. Among its current portfolio is the widely distributed Blended Applejack, made by mixing apple brandy with neutral grain spirits, as well as a 100% Straight Apple Brandy aged for four years in oak and bottled at a hearty 100 proof.
Sipping apple brandy neat (don’t be bashful about adding ice if you wish to) provides a pleasant way to pass the light-filled afternoons and chilled evenings of mid-autumn. But this dark, robust spirit can prove quite useful in a cocktail, too. For the easiest application, simply use it in place of whisky in an Old-Fashioned. For something a bit more original, mix yourself a Jack Rose. This iconic apple brandy drinks dates back to the early 20th century and even appears in the hands of Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises.
50ml Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy (or another 100% apple brandy)
25ml fresh lemon juice
10ml grenadine (look for grenadine made from real pomegranate or make your own by bringing equal parts pomegranate juice and sugar to simmer in a saucepan before removing from heat and stirring to combine).
Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then double strain into a chilled coupe glass.