Monday, December 13, 2010

The Jack Rose

This is the sixth and final installment in my "Embury six" series.


Some of you will no doubt be familiar with this cocktail, others I will assume "don't know Jack".

Of Embury's six basic cocktails there are 1 gin, 2 whiskey, 1 rum, 1 brandy...and 1 applejack recipe. Applejack? Really? It seems out of place with the other base spirits...or does it?

Applejack and America

What is Applejack? Nothing less than America's original whiskey.

Applejack, or "Jersey Lightening" is basically really hard apple cider and was commonly made in colonial America. Early in New Jersey's history, applejack was used as currency to pay the workers building the state's roads.

"Jacking" is the term for freeze distillation. The colonists would leave barrels of hard cider (or even shallow bowls) out in the winter elements, and scrape the ice off the top as it formed. Eventually they were left with a concentrated alcohol.

The process also concentrates impurities (fusel alcohols) that are removed when "heat" distillation techniques are employed, making this a brutal and dangerous form of hooch.

When Scottish distiller William Laird settled in New Jersey in 1698, he applied his technical know-how to the local crop of his new home, apples!

Apples had been cultivated in the colonies since the 1630's and were readily available. By employing traditional whiskey making techniques that he brought with him from Scotland, he produced America's first refined apple brandy. A heat distilled product that was aged in oak, just like any other whiskey, and which was America's first fine spirit.

In 1717, a "descendant" of William Laird built the Colts Neck Inn in Colts Neck, New Jersey.
William Laird's grandson Robert was a Revolutionary War soldier, and the Laird family supplied the troops with applejack. Sometime around 1760, George Washington wrote to the Laird family requesting their recipe for producing applejack, which the Laird family gladly supplied.

In 1780, operating out of the family center of operations at the "Colt's Neck Inn", Robert started "Laird & Co." and received United States Liquor license #1. The company still has records that date all the way back to this beginning!

Their first commercial records show that "cyder spirits" - applejack - was a standard item on the menu and sold at a price of four shillings, six pence per gallon. This represented about a half-day’s wages at the time! (For more on the Laird's unique history in America, here's an excellent article from the New York Times.)

James and Joseph Laird on left. Door to bonded warehouse indicating licence #1 on right.

Applejack Today

Although at one point there were more than 400 small, farm-based distilleries in New Jersey making applejack, Laird's is now the only one left from that group.

Current law requires that any "applejack" be aged in used bourbon barrels for a minimum of four years. The 80-proof bottle easily found on shelves in any liquor store is a product of the 1970's. At the time, it was created in response to America's growing taste for "lighter "spirits.

Laird's 80-proof applejack is made up of a blend of 35% straight apple brandy and 65% neutral grain spirits. It takes about 6 pounds of apples on average to make one bottle of this blend.

The un-blended styles, basically apple whiskeys, are still available.There is the Laird's 100-proof straight apple brandy, Laird's 80-proof Old Apple Brandy (Aged for a minimum of seven and a half years), and Laird's 88-proof 12 Year old apple brandy.

These are hard to find however. The easiest of the un-blended expressions to find is the 100-proof, straight apple brandy. Here the brandy that makes up only 35% of the 80-proof "applejack" is bottled at full strength. It takes around 20 pounds of apples to make a single bottle of this spirit!

Johnny Appleseed

One of the more interesting facts to come to light when researching America's love for applejack, regards one John Chapman, a.k.a. "Johnny Appleseed".

We were taught as school children that Johnny Appleseed wandered the country barefooted, wearing tin pots on his head and spreading apple seeds randomly. All bollocks with the exception of the bare feet, and then only in the summer to "save on leather".

He actually planted nurseries rather than orchards, going so far as to build fences around the nurseries to protect them from livestock. He would leave the nurseries in the care of a local, who would sell the trees on shares. John would return every year or two to tend to the nurseries.

Chapman's managers were asked to sell the trees on credit. He would accept corn meal, cash or used clothing in barter. While Chapman was hardly alone in this business pattern, he was unusual in that he remained a wanderer his entire life.

Here's the real kicker. It was the (hard) cider industry that drove this activity. By Chapman's time, the nation's thirst for cider and apple brandy was greater than what the supply of apples could provide! A fact conveniently omitted from the Appleseed legend.


Grenadine derives it's name from the French word grenade, meaning pomegranate. True grenadine syrup is made from the pomegranate's juice. Nearly every culture in the world has cultivated and revered the pomegranate as a symbol of fertility and abundance. (There's a great wiki on it here.)

By medieval times or even earlier, pomegranates have been processed into all sorts of syrups and tinctures.

It's first use in barcraft is often (and erroneously) accredited to a bartender by the name of "Jack Bender". Jack is said to have used grenadine for the first time when he introduced the original Sea Breeze cocktail in the 1920's.

Since bartending manuals were calling for grenadine in the Jack Rose (and other) recipes as early as 1910, we can assume that the credit should go elsewhere and that it was a fairly common ingredient by the 1920's

Today's ubiquitous "Rose's" grenadine, is compiled mainly of high fructose corn syrup. It is artificially flavored to taste more like raspberries than pomegranates.

For off the shelf choices, Stirrings makes a decent pomegranate grenadine, and Monin's Pomegranate syrup works well too (if not better).

If you want to make the fresh stuff, you can easily make your own grenadine with a pomegranate juice like POM's, but it's likely to result in a dark product that will turn your cocktails brown.

I used POM juice the last time I made grenadine at home and it was not terrible aside from the muddy appearance it gave my cocktails. I decided to pick up some fresh pomegranates and make it with fresh juice this time, and what a difference! Fresh pomegranate juice is definitely the way to go.



1 cup fresh pomegranate juice
1 cup unbleached sugar
1/2 oz Tanqueray 10 (or other high proof, quality gin)
1/4 oz Monin's Raspberry syrup
1/4 oz DeKuyper Bessen Genever (you could use Plymouth sloe gin)
1 barspoon orange flower water


1) Juice the pomegranates. You will need a sturdy juicer with a cone and seed catcher.

2) Strain the juice.

3) Add the sugar, heat over low heat stirring until sugar has dissolved. Let Cool.

4) Stir in the remaining ingredients and bottle.

Pomegranate molasses is a common ingredient that I did not have so I used the sloe gin-like "bessen genever" I picked up in Germany this fall. The gin is only used as a preservative so you can substitute vodka if you like.

What a color!

The Jack Rose's History

This was a post about a cocktail right? The Jack Rose's history is also a bit tricky, with varying legends associated with it's origin.
Jacob "Bald Jack" Rosenweig (1875-Oct 4, 1947)
The most colorful and popular story claims that a gambler and New York City underworld figure, Jacob Rosenweig, had this drink named after him or created it himself.

Jacob had several alias' including "Bald Jack Rose", "Baldy Jack Rose" and "Billiard Ball Jack". He operated a gambling resort on the east side of Manhattan known as 'The Rosebud", which was a popular underworld hangout.

The story goes that a drink containing "one jigger of applejack, juice of half a lemon, half an ounce of grenadine, shaken with ice, and strained", was named in his honor.

In 1912, the same year that Bald Jack was a star witness in the controversial "Becker-Rosenthal" case, an article appeared claiming that his infamy had put such a dent in the drink's popularity that some bartenders started calling the drink the "Royal Smile" instead.

The drinks roots in print actually go back to an article from 1905, in the April 22nd edition of the "National Police Gazette", which read:

"Frank J. May,  better known as Jack Rose, is the inventor of a very popular cocktail by that name, which has made him famous as a mixologist.  He is at present looking after the managerial affairs of Gene Sullivan's Cafe, at 187 Pavonia avenue, Jersey City, N. J., one of the most popular resorts in that city."

We're not quite done with the story yet though. Most historians agree that the drink was likely to predate any of these references. 

As we've seen, Applejack has long been the state drink of New Jersey and the early colonies in general. It's far more likely that someone sweetened their Jersey or Applejack Sour with some grenadine, noted it's rosy appearance, and named the drink accordingly.

Early Jack Rose Recipes

The first time we see the Jack Rose recipe in a cocktail book, is in the 1908 publication of "Jack's Manual" by J. A. Grohusko. The then appears in several books over the next decade, as the recipe evolved.

1908 - J.A. Grohusko from "Jack's Manual"

1 teaspoonful sugar
10 dashes Raspberry syrup
10 dashed lemon juice
5 dashes orange juice
Juice 1/2 lime
75% cider brandy.
Fill glass with cracked ice, shake and strain, fill with fizz water and serve.

Appearing in a new appendix added in the 1910 edition and accredited to R.H. Townes of 62 William St., New York. 

1910 - William H. Boothby from "The World's Drinks and How to Mix Them"

"The juice of one lemon, one part grenadine syrup, and two pats Apple Jack. Shake well with cracked ice, and strain into a cocktail glass."

David Wondrich in his book "Imbibe", credits Jacques Straub's 1914 recipe as the first to resemble today's drink.

1914 - Jacques Straub - Drinks
1 jigger applejack
1/2 lime.
1/4 jigger grenadine syrup. Shake Well.

The Embury Jack Rose

David's reasoning for apple brandy's lack of favor with the public was it's lack of proper aging. He ventured to say that "if some enterprising distiller would put out an apple brandy made with the same loving care as cognac and aged in wood for ten, twenty, or even forty years, it would soon rival grape brandies in popularity, especially for use in mixed drinks". If only someone had listened to him, when the book was first published in 1948.

His take was that this was basically a sidecar with apple brandy used in place of the grape brandy and grenadine (primarily for color) used in place of the Cointreau. He claimed that the drink was "...nothing but a Pink Apple Car." and calmed we should make it like that, prescribing:


1 part Grenadine
2 parts Lemon Juice
8 parts Apple Brandy

Shake vigorously with plenty of cracked or crushed ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.A twist of lemon may be used and the peel dropped into the glass if desired. Otherwise no decoration.

He went on to suggest frosting the glass by putting some grenadine in a saucer, dipping the glass in the grenadine, spinning the glass to remove excess drops and dipping the glass into powdered sugar.

The Modern Jack Rose

When researching my post on the sidecar I found it interesting that the members of the Museum Of The American Cocktail (MOTAC) could not agree on a sidecar recipe. Upon digging further into the sidecar, I realized why this made sense. 

The sages of the day 100 years ago did not seem to agree on the Jack Rose, which made me wonder about the MOTAC crew. It turns out they all have their own takes on this cocktail as well.

Dale DeGroff, Essential Cocktails (MOATC President)
1 1/2 oz applejack
3/4 oz simple syrup
3/4 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/4 oz grenadine
Apple Slice, for garnish
Maraschino cherry, for garnish

Combine applejack, syrup, lemon juice, and grenadine in a mixing glass with ice and shake well. Strain into a small cocktail glass and garnish with the apple slice and cherry.

Ted Haigh, Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails (MOATC Curator)
1 1/2 ounces applejack
Juice of 1/2 lime (or lemon - about 1 ounce)
2 or more dashes of real pomegranate grenadine

Shake well in an iced cocktail shaker, strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with a lime (or lemon) wedge.

Robert Hess, Essential Bartender's Guide (MOATC Secretary)
2 1/2 ounces (75ml) applejack
3/4 ounce (22ml) lemon juice
1/2 ounce (15ml) grenadine

Shake well with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

...and from the board of advisers

David Wondrich, Esquire Drinks

2 ounces applejack
1 ounce lime juice
1/2 ounce grenadine

Shake the applejack and other ingredients well with cracked ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Gary Reagan, Joy of Mixology
2 1/2 ounces applejack
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
grenadine to taste
1 lemon twist, for garnish

SHAKE AND STRAIN into a chilled cocktail glass. Add the garnish.


I must admit to a bit of luck on the lemon version below. The first time out, it was just right. Granted, I'd just transcribed several of the major recipes throughout history, but there it was. A nice rosy aroma from the orange flower water in the fresh grenadine. The beautiful pink blush. The sour apple bite. The warming lemon. It was spot on.

The lime version took a bit of experimenting though. The first time out I tried a 1/2 oz grenadine to 1/2 oz lime juice and it was too sweet. I pulled back to 1/4 oz grenadine and 3/4 oz lime, as I'd done with the lemon juice, and it was too tart.

Splitting the difference at 1/3 oz grenadine and 2/3 oz lime juice and I was back in the pleasure zone with all the wonderful qualities that appeared in the lemon drink reemerging without loosing the bite of the lime. (Be careful though, even sharing the experiments with my wife, we found that the potent 100-proof applejack can really sneak up on you quickly!)

This was my own tasting with a homemade grenadine. I'm posting these recipes as reference only. As you've seen above and throughout this series, it's always best to consider your ingredients, and adjust to your own tastes accordingly.

The Jack Rose with Lemon Juice


2 ounces Laird's 100-proof bonded apple brandy
3/4 ounce Fresh Lemon Juice
1/4 ounce fresh grenadine


Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. No Garnish

The Jack Rose with Lime Juice


2 ounces Laird's 100-proof bonded apple brandy
2/3 ounce Fresh Lime Juice
1/3 ounce fresh grenadine


Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. No Garnish

What are you waiting for? Isn't it time for a Jack Rose?


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