The Jack Rose
If you want to know more, read on. If you’re just here for a recipe, here it is. Mix away, and Cheers.
- 2 oz. Applejack
- 1/4 oz. Lemon juice
- 1/4 oz. Grenadine
Shake all ingredients with ice until cold, pour, and serve with one ice cube.
This drink is liquid history. Its main ingredient is still made by Lairds, the oldest commercial distillery in the United States (distilling since 1717). It is listed as one of the six basic cocktails by David Embury in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks (1948). Stories about its name range from gangsters to French generals and its color is reported to be the same as the Jacquinemot Rose when properly mixed.
Imbibing a Jack Rose is like discovering a secret that’s been hidden away in plain sight for centuries by simply wiping the dust off a stone wall like every movie archaeologist ever. You feel like you’re in the Smithsonian and you’ve just sneaked into the early American history exhibit, sat down in the corner, and taken a hit off the prized display bottle labeled with two Xs.
It’s Henry Ford’s Model T, Jimi Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner” and the Baseball Hall of Fame served with a side of apple pie. It’s Americana, but not kitschy Americana. It’s the real stuff like hot dog cookouts, Harley Davidson and Old Glory. It’s a remembrance of the days when America welcomed immigrants, helped our neighbors, stood up for those that had fallen, and held our own in global issues with decisions based on humanity, rightness, science, and freedom. Unless your drinking age has a drinking age, you might not remember that feeling.
Yes, American history has its issues. We have suppressed, murdered, enslaved, and done many things that we should not be proud of. But that’s not what we’re drinking here. We’re drinking the accomplishments of American history; skyscrapers and railroads built by hard work and determination, innovations made by new scientific discoveries, and ideals set forth by men and women who cared about humanity, country, and the right thing to do because it was right, not because it was popular or would make the most money. We too often vilify the thought of history without remembering that most of the people who lived it were just trying to do the right thing. Like today, our politicians and those who are apparently insane get all the press while most of us are just trying to live our best lives, raise our children to be good people, and maybe occasionally have a drink that comes with a thought process. The Jack Rose is the history of and the drink for those people.
Despite its longevity, this drink is neither pretentious nor conceited. It knows that it was started by pioneers who “freeze jacked” their apple cider by letting the barrels freeze in winter and then removing the ice, leaving a more potent mixture in the barrel. It knows that America has some history to atone for, but it’s still proud of its heritage. It is full of flavors like the America that it represents, and it wants to include you in that experience.
You’re not traveling, so get that experience at home.
Americana is the feeling you want. So, get out your patriotic paraphernalia, watch Top Gun, Captain America, or pretty much anything with John Wayne in it. Feel the good parts of American history and remember what it’s like to love the country you call home. Surround yourself with family and know that you are part of something bigger.
You don’t need to set much of a stage, but give yourself room to think. Your bar shouldn’t be too crowded and you should confine your thoughts to the good ones. Feel the heartiness of pioneers, the patriotism of revolutionaries, the ingenuity of inventors, and the resilience of the people who go out into this fucked up world every day to do good things.
The History and the Numbers
Let’s start with the main ingredient. Applejack is a brandy made by fermenting apples. It’s brown, flavorful, deep, and most certainly not the sweet, flavored, green stuff that makes you wonder if you’re drinking candy.
Lairds distillery has been distilling Applejack since 1717 and is a distinctly American company that deserves our respect and our business. Other distilleries also make Apple Brandy (and some very good ones), but none with quite the same lineage or longevity.
During the Revolutionary War (yes, the REVOLUTIONARY War), Lairds supplied Apple Brandy for the troops while Robert Laird served in General Washington’s army. They survived prohibition by making apple cider, applesauce, and then licensed Apple Brandy for “medicinal purposes”. The distillery converted operations to making pectin to preserve rations during WWII. They converted again to making and bottling hand sanitizer (which was donated to first responders)during Covid-19. They still make Applejack from American fruit (now Virginia apples instead of New Jersey ones).
Unfortunately, most people have probably never even tried it. But do yourself a favor and pick up a bottle. It is reasonably priced, has a richer taste than most of the stuff in your liquor cabinet, and you cannot make a Jack Rose without it.
Okay, so let’s mix this thing already!
As drinks go, this one is fairly simple. Apple Brandy, citrus, and Grenadine.
David Embury lists the Jack Rose as one of the “six basic cocktails” in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks at an 8:2:1 ratio with lemon juice. Gary Reegan’s Bartender’s Bible says 2 oz. Applejack, 1 oz. lemon juice and 1 tsp. Grenadine, which is a 12:6:1 ratio. Liquor.com says 1.5 oz. Applejack, 0.75 oz. lemon or lime juice, and 0.5 oz. Grenadine, which is 6:3:2. The IBA snubs the Jack Rose, not listing it in any of their main categories. (FYI: The Jack Rose glances at its 300-year-old lineage and doesn't give a shit.)
So, what does this mean for you, a thirsty American who just wants a friggin’ drink? In service to history, country, and my readers, I have tried several of these recipes. My preferred ratio comes out to 8:1:1 (recipe above).
Adding ice is not recommended in any of the recipes I looked up, but I suggest letting a cube or two drop from the shaker into the glass. As the ice melts it smooths out your drink and gives you some more of the apple flavor from the Brandy. Both America and the Jack Rose grew up on ingenuity and on making adjustments when they made sense. I believe this one makes sense.
When you get the proportions right, the Grenadine and lemon mix together with the Applejack at that perfect level to enhance each other and bring out more subtleties than you would get by tasting each on its own. Nothing is overpowered and nothing is left behind.
Of course, these are one man’s opinions and sanctioned only by me and those who drink at my home bar. But, pick up a bottle of Applejack and give it a try.
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Embury, David, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, Mud Puddle, Inc., 1948
Reegan, Gary, The Bartender’s Bible: 1001 Mixed Drinks and Everything You Need to Know to Set Up Your Bar, Harper Collins, 1991