The Jack Rose Cocktail, a True American Classic

The Jack Rose cocktail
Photo by Meg Baggott, styling by Dylan Garret

What do Humphrey Bogart, Errol Flynn, Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck have in common? All knew how to drink well, and each counted the Jack Rose among their favorite cocktails.

This easy-to-make American classic has been out of fashion since its popularity peaked in the 1920s and ’30s, but it has made a comeback in bars across the country. The base spirit is an apple brandy called applejack. Originally, it was made by freezing cider and removing the ice. This would concentrate the remaining juice, which would then be fermented and distilled, a technique known as “jacking.”

Applejack is often said to be America’s first spirit. It was introduced in 1698 by William Laird, a Scottish immigrant living in colonial New Jersey. His great-grandson, Robert, established the Laird & Company distillery in 1780.

It was Robert who George Washington reportedly reached out to personally, in order request his recipe and instructions on how to distill applejack himself. Laird’s has stated that Washington is the only outsider to ever possess their family recipe.

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The spirit’s presidential credentials don’t stop there. Abraham Lincoln, America’s first and only licensed bartender-in-chief, served applejack in the tavern he owned before he sought office. (Lincoln charged 12½¢ per pint.) Franklin D. Roosevelt preferred his Manhattans made with the apple brandy rather than whiskey, and Lyndon B. Johnson once gifted a case to Alexei Kosygin, a high-ranking Soviet statesman, at the height of the Cold War.

The Jack Rose cocktail is also notable for two literary connections. Jake Barnes, the narrator in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, famously sipped one in the bar of Paris’s Hôtel de Crillon as he waited for Lady Brett Ashley. It’s also considered one of the six basic drinks (alongside the Old Fashioned, Daiquiri, Manhattan, Martini and Sidecar) in David A. Embury’s required reading for bartenders, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks.

The key to a well-balanced Jack Rose is to tamp down on the sugar to let the apple shine and allow the lemon to provide crisp, slightly sour tartness. You can buy off-the-shelf grenadine for this recipe, though look for high-quality offerings made with real pomegranate and a minimum of additives. We’ve also provided a recipe for grenadine that you can make in minutes that will beat most store-bought offerings.

  • 2 ounces applejack, like Laird’s
  • 1 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • ½ ounce grenadine
  • 1 raspberry, for garnish
  • 1 apple slice, for garnish

Combine all ingredients in cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until well chilled, 10–15 seconds. Double-strain through fine mesh sieve into chilled coupe. Garnish with raspberry and apple slice.

Grenadine Ingredients
  • 4 cups unsweetened 100% pomegranate juice, like POM Wonderful
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon orange flower water
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 2 ounces vodka or neutral spirit, optional
Grenadine Directions

In saucepan over medium heat, combine pomegranate juice and sugar. Stir until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and let cool. Add orange flower, lime juice and vodka, if using. Stir well, and store in airtight container. Refrigerated, grenadine without vodka will keep for 1 month, or indefinitely with it.

Published on July 6, 2019