Food & Drink: In Good Cyder Spirits

To alcohol's less-subtle magnetism, add history. There is hardly a spirit that doesn't have a tantalizing back story tied to a colorful family, cherished piece of literature, cornerstone philosophy, or elaborate sarcophagi. If imbibing it by the pitcher or martini glass doesn't aid comprehension or insight, per se, perhaps we feel a deeper, subliminal connection to humanity's millennia-long ability to develop sophisticated cultural habits that feed plenty of rope to our baser instincts.

I have a set of cocktail napkins at home that is hardly singular in its tribute to Western society's affection for drink. Each white, red-trimmed square offers a classic recipe in its most basic form. My favorite at the moment is the Jack Rose, a tart, palate-resurfacing combination of apple liquor, grenadine, and lime juice. Like the Whiskey Smash, the toast of last month's Toast, this Jack Rose owes its ode to Boston's Eastern Standard bar and restaurant, where they invest more attention and ingredients than my cocktail napkin dictates - you get what you pay (and shake) for.

According to this cocktail napkin, the heart of a good Jack Rose is 1 1/2 oz. of Applejack.

Still, the napkin, a tribute to that Jack Lemmon twilight of the American male, isn't a bad place to start. One-and-a-half ounces of Laird's Applejack is the heart of the drink - but immediately the recipe gets both tricky and nostalgic. Why Applejack and not another apple liquor? Applejack not only smells and tastes of real apples and is relatively dry, it is the Republic's oldest documented spirit - as attested to by a letter from George Washington hisself, who requested the recipe for Laird's "cyder spirits," which, according to the company's website, is made from a blend of Red Delicious, Gala, Golden Delicious, Winesap, and Granny Smith apples. But it's hard to locate in San Antonio, so you may have to make do with another product. Contemporary Applejack is actually 65- percent vodka, so shop accordingly.

And compensate with a high-quality grenadine that tastes distinctly of pomegranates - 1 teaspoon per cocktail (you also can make your own; recipes abound on the internet, many with the word "simple" attached - in irony, I can only assume, since nothing simple begins with whole pomegranates). Combine the Applejack and grenadine in a martini shaker, add the juice of half a lime, fill with crushed ice, shake, and strain into a martini glass.

The Eastern Standard adds another fussy touch that's simply magical (and filled with literary and romantic allusion): a dash of orange-flower water, which adds refreshingly floral and bittergreen notes. It knocks the entire concoction out of Sex-and-the-City pink frilliness and into the realm of legendary 'balling with Manhattans and Sazeracs. Perhaps even into the lofty universe of American lit - or at least into the hands of a Raymond Chandler dame.


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