You could argue that the brown-liquor renaissance of recent years has been a reaction to the vodka-drenched Pucker-corrupted cocktail decade that preceded it, which experienced its nadir in the hideous appletini. But in the tail end of apple season, with plenty of good cider available, I wanted to renew the apple "martini" (I succumb to the troubling but widespread practice of categorizing mixed drinks by glass) and unlock its long-betrayed potential. While bourbon may spring to mind as the obvious way to achieve this, I realized that, in fact, brandy was the key here, and I had a chance to resist the bourbon hegemony that has crowded out brandy from many home bars (except, apparently in Wisconsin).
Brandy is a terrific cold weather drink, a way of holding on to the summer sun, captured in the fruits of the orchard, and distilling it for year-round enjoyment, ideally in front of a blazing fireplace. During the fall we have a special chance to combine the pleasures of fresh apple cider with apple brandy, a combination that has been tested in numerous cocktail recipes sharing the name "Normandy."
The Normandy name for this drink honors the origin of Calvados, a very special apple brandy that is worth the expense because, unlike its liquor store-shelf neighbor Applejack, it is made entirely from distilled apple cider (the dry, fermented kind, known in America as "hard" cider), whereas Applejack blends distilled cider with up to 80% neutral spirits.
Calvados is expensive, and it's also very light on the palate, which makes it perfect for sipping but too faint (and a bad value) when shaken into a cocktail. By adding "regular" French brandy, we can get that lovely Calvados note that boosts and concentrates the apple cider flavor (which can otherwise be insipid), and then adding both volume and botanical complexity with gin, we get a well-rounded and flavorful fall drink that conjures a little bit of France and a little bit of colonial America. Perhaps a fair tribute to Lafayette at Brandywine.
The recipe is easy, and one thing I like about it is that it's scalable, so you can make a pitcher full before a party, then shake individual drinks with ice and strain them out one at a time. This is a "4 : 3 : 2 : 1" recipe.
• 4 parts fresh, unfiltered apple cider
• 3 parts French brandy (ensuring it is not blended with "neutral spirits")
• 2 parts Calvados
• 1 part gin
A generous dash of bitters add an appreciable dimension to this drink, and I like using clove-scented orange bitters here in particular. (Total aside: homemade bitters would be a great holiday gift.)
As I was taste testing different versions of this drink, I thought about using some Calvados to fall-ify my favorite sweet summer cocktail, the Sidecar, an experiment which frankly didn't work at all. But there's a version of the Sidecar known as the Chapel Hill, made with bourbon. It seemed to me that marrying Calvados with bourbon in a Sidecar-like contraption might hit all the right autumnal notes, and sure enough it worked. I am dubbing it the "Apple Hill."
This recipe has the simple ratio of "1 : 1 : ½ : ½" like this:
• 1 ounce Calvados
• 1 ounce bourbon
• ½ ounce Cointreau (or other fine orange liqueur)
• Juice of ½ lemon
As shake over ice and strain. To put a fine point on its seasonal spirit, I garnished with a thin slice of Fuyu persimmon.
If perhaps you are a bit put off by even the simplest tarte tatin recipe, particularly on a weeknight, I hope these two drinks will give you all the apply enjoyment you need in these crisp autumn days and nights.
Previously: Drinks For Hibernation: How To Make Bear Milk
K. Emerson Beyer, environmentalist and gadabout, lives in Durham, N.C. and tweets as @patebrisee.