With new twists on classic concoctions, Bostonians can enjoy another kind of apple-picking this fall.
There are few things more American than the apple, a fruit made famous by New England’s own legendary pioneer Johnny Appleseed (née John Chapman, born in 1774 in Leominster, Massachusetts). Way back in his day, the humble apple was often employed as a base for alcoholic beverages, and that use is enjoying a resurgence here in Boston, with three particularly savory choices. (An apple a day, indeed.)
In the Colonial era, the region’s abundant apples were often turned into hard cider, a fermented juice that at times was safer to drink than water. These days, thankfully, our water is government-certified good to go, but cider certainly remains a spirited way to make the most of an apple crop. Here in New England, a couple of Bates College seniors with a passion for preserving local apple orchards founded Downeast Cider House (200 Terminal St., 207-200-7332), a company hyperfocused on using only natural ingredients and fresh-pressed apple juice. You can stop by the cidery every Saturday from 1 pm to 7 pm for a tour and taste—and don’t forget to bring home a growler of cider to share with friends.
Applejack—a brandy distilled from hard cider—was also a product of Colonial apple cultivation and is considered America’s oldest native distilled beverage. A Revolutionary War soldier named Robert Laird, who served under George Washington, supplied the troops with his family’s applejack. The tipple proved so popular that Washington requested the recipe, and by the 1760s he was producing “cyder spirits” himself. The Laird family, however, holds the distinction of establishing America’s first commercial distillery in 1780.
More than 200 years later, the company’s modern recipe blends 35 percent apple brandy (aged four to six years) with 65 percent neutral grain spirits. A single 750-milliliter bottle of Laird’s Blended Applejack contains six pounds of apples. Perhaps the most well-known classic cocktail using applejack is the Jack Rose, a tart-sweet mix of applejack, lemon juice, and (preferably house-made) grenadine. Try one at The Blue Room (One Kendall Sq., Cambridge, 617-494-9034).
Applejack’s French cousin is calvados, an apple brandy from lower Normandy. The fruit is usually picked by hand, pressed into a juice that’s fermented into a dry cider, then distilled and aged for at least two years in oak casks. As with whiskeys, the longer it’s aged, the smoother and more complex it tastes. Renowned producer Christian Drouin makes a white apple brandy, Blanche de Normandie, which can be sipped as an aperitif or used in cocktails, like the cherry sidecar at Brasserie Jo (120 Huntington Ave., 617-425-3240). Or settle into your favorite armchair and enjoy the sublimely sippable 15-year-old Couer de Lion Pays d’Auge Hors d’Age, available at Gordon’s Fine Wine & Liquors (894 Main St., Waltham, 781-893-1900).