Drinks authority David Embury called this one of his “six basic cocktails”
So who is this David Embury? And what is a “basic cocktail,” anyway?
Patience—all will be revealed in time. But first, we need to introduce this tasty delight.
The Jack Rose is made with applejack, a variety of apple brandy. Applejack goes back a long way—it was extremely popular in North America during colonial times, and was the first spirit to be licensed for commercial production in the United States.
This drink is simplicity itself to make. Pour a slug of applejack, add freshly squeezed lime juice (or lemon—your choice), splash in some grenadine (the real stuff, please), and mix with ice. The result? An appealingly tart drink with just the right balance of sweetness. Not to mention gorgeous color.
The Jack Rose is perfect for sharpening appetites before an autumn dinner. Especially that big dinner you may be planning for the 4th Thursday of November (you know, the one they call Thanksgiving).
Recipe: The Jack Rose Cocktail
Most brandies and cognacs are made from grapes. Applejack brandy is made from apples (or cider)—originally by a process called freeze distillation.
The only brand of applejack you’re likely to find in your liquor store these days is one made by Laird & Company, which is the oldest licensed distillery in the US (having obtained License No. 1 from the US Treasury Department in 1780). What you’ll probably see on the shelf is their 80-proof applejack; it includes some neutral grain spirits, which (alas) dilute the flavor somewhat. Laird also makes a bonded (100 proof) version, but it’s hard to find. You can substitute a French calvados for applejack if you like, though that’s a pricey (albeit excellent!) substitution.
Grenadine provides essential flavor in this drink. Which means you definitely need to use real (i.e., pomegranate) grenadine. The brand of grenadine you’re most likely to find in your liquor store (Rose’s) contains no pomegranate, just artificial flavors and coloring. But worry not. It’s quite easy to make your own grenadine; for complete instructions, see our post on Homemade Grenadine.
Originally, this drink was made with lemon juice. Then, somewhere along the way, lime became the citrus of choice. It’s good with either juice, though I prefer lime—so that’s what I’ve included in my version.
Most recipes for the Jack Rose are similar. I’m using the one from David Wondrich’s Imbibe!
This recipe serves 1, and takes about 5 minutes to prepare.
- 2 ounces applejack (apple brandy)
- 1 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice (or substitute fresh-squeezed lemon juice if you prefer)
- ~½ ounce grenadine (you might like a bit less or more)
- lime wedge or slice for garnish (optional; use lemon wedge/slice if you substitute lemon juice)
- Place all ingredients (except for garnish) in a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice. Shake vigorously until the shaker is frosted and the drink is thoroughly chilled (about 20 seconds).
- Strain the contents of the shaker into a cocktail glass, preferably one that’s been chilled. Garnish with a lime slice or wedge if you wish, and serve.
- A common variation on this recipe uses 1½ ounces applejack, ½ ounce juice (lime or lemon), and ½ ounce grenadine. This produces a sweeter drink than the formula I prefer, but you might find it ideal.
- How did the Jack Rose get its name? As usual with cocktails, there are competing theories. One says it’s named after the Jacquemot (Jacque) rose, which has a color similar to this drink.
- A more exciting story says it was named after Bald Jack Rose, a notorious early 20th century gambler and gangland figure. He became famous for (among other things) serving as a star witness at a lurid underworld murder trial.
- In truth, the origins of this drink are likely more prosaic. David Wondrich says it probably was invented by a bartender named Frank J. May—who also went by the pseudonym Jack Rose.
- Rose (or May) tended bar in New Jersey, so that’s where he probably developed this drink. Coincidentally, Laird & Company was founded in New Jersey. And a slang term for applejack is “Jersey Lightning.”
- David Embury (1886-1960) was an American attorney who became a well-known cocktail authority. He wrote The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, a comprehensive, authoritative (and witty) guide to mixology. Embury was quite opinionated, and he preferred his drinks dry (i.e., not sweet)—drier, in fact, than many people can tolerate.
- Want an example? Well, our recipe for the Jack Rose has a ratio of 4:2:1 (4 parts applejack to 2 parts lime juice to 1 part grenadine). The alternate formula that I give in the first note above is 3:1:1. Embury’s preference is 8:2:1. Now that’s a dry drink!
- In his book, Embury includes a chapter titled “Six Basic Cocktails.” These are the drinks that Embury declared to be the best known and most popular—so they were the ones that readers were advised to learn first. The Jack Rose was among them. You can read about the other five in some of our prior posts: the Martini, the Manhattan, the Old-Fashioned, the Classic Daiquiri, and the Sidecar.
- Embury’s list is still a good guide to essential cocktails. The Jack Rose is the only one that sounds obscure today—and we’re doing our best to change that.
- The Jack Rose seems to have reached peak popularity during the first half of the 20th century (Embury’s heyday). Ernest Hemingway has Jake Barnes down one (or maybe two) in The Sun Also Rises (published 1926).
A Rose is a Rose is a Rose
“Love the color of this,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, hoisting her glass. “The flavor too.”
“So I noticed,” I said, observing her happy sipping.
She ignored my Embury-inspired dryness. “The lime and grenadine play nicely together.”
“Think we should try this with lemon next?” I asked as she drained her glass.
“But of course!” said Mrs K R. “We’re known for the depth of our cocktail research.”
“Thanks for putting it that way,” I said, mixing us another round.
“Mmmm,” said Mrs K R as she sipped. “Lemon is nice in this too.”
“Though the lime is somewhat better,” I said between tastes.
“Agreed. But I’d be happy to drink either.”
That’s Mrs K R—always ready to make the best of any situation.
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