Top Apple Liquors for Fall
Apple-based spirits, from France’s Calvados to all-American applejack, make the ultimate autumnal sippers. From bright and crisp to rich baked-apple and spice flavors, there isn’t a better way to enjoy fall’s favorite bounty.
Marked by rich baked-apple flavor, vanilla and subtle spice, Normandy’s apple brandy, known as Calvados, is an expression of the French countryside. Hundreds of apple varieties grow here, dotting the landscape with orchards where the branches hang heavy with fruit. Several varieties of these apples (and sometimes pears) go into each bottle.
World War II correspondent (and gourmand) A.J. Liebling, who spent much of his time in France, once praised Calvados as “the best alcohol in the world.”
Look for bottles like Boulard’s Grand Solage VSOP, with complex layers of honey, almonds and tarte Tatin, or Christian Drouin’s caramel apple-like Coeur de Lion XO, to pair with dessert or sip as a digestif.
However, Calvados plays well in cocktails, says mixologist Jackson Cannon, of Boston’s Eastern Standard.
Try his take on a highball, mixing one part Calvados to four parts San Pellegrino Chinotto (a cola-like Italian soda) in an ice-filled Collins glass, garnished with a thin slice of lime.
Those who prefer a lighter tipple should also consider seeking out Pommeau, a mix of Calvados and apple juice, often sipped as an apéritif.
Of course, France doesn’t have a monopoly on apples, nor apple brandy. Applejack, a quintessential American spirit with Colonial roots, has captured the attention of bartenders and craft distillers.
Indeed, many are now trying their hand at aged apple brandy—some using heirloom apple varieties—and taking a fresh approach to this historic spirit.
In addition to Laird’s AppleJack, the New Jersey-based homesteader also known as “Jersey Lightning,” newcomers include two excellent examples from New York’s apple-growing Hudson Valley region.
Cornelius Applejack (also maker of Core Vodka) offers a sophisticated take, aged in former Woodford Reserve Bourbon barrels.
Black Dirt Apple Jack is distilled from local Jonagold apples and aged in charred oak barrels for four years. It yields a slightly rougher, more whiskey-like effect, pouring out apple, bitter chocolate and spice. Co-owner Jeremy Kidde refers to it as “90-proof apple pie in a glass.”
Whichever spirit you choose, the classic way to consume applejack is as part of a Jack Rose cocktail (applejack, grenadine, lemon), a drink famously mentioned in Ernest Hemingway’s 1920s novel, The Sun Also Rises.
A handful of vodkas, gins and eaux-de-vie employ apples, too. Core Vodka, which is distilled from apples, is perhaps the most subtle of the bunch, with a fleeting touch of fruit and sweetness. Scotland’s Caorunn Gin employs red apple, though juniper and other botanicals lead the nose and palate. For more pronounced apple goodness, opt for Clear Creek Distillery’s “apple in the bottle” apple brandy. It’s remarkably fragrant and, as the name suggests, it has a whole apple bobbing in the brandy. Bottles are placed over embryonic apples, which are left on the tree to grow to full size under glass.
For those with a sweet tooth, liqueurs and apple-flavored spirits are naturals. American Fruits Bourbon Barrel Aged Apple Liqueur fortifies New York State apple brandy to create lovely butterscotch tones. Meanwhile, “apple pie moonshine” takes a bolder, stickier approach, as in Ole Smoky’s Tennessee corn whiskey flavored with apple juice, cinnamon and spices.
- 1Bonjour, Calvados
- 3Beyond Brandies