Questionable Tastes TM_BZ_APPBR_FI_001

Bobbing for Apple Brandy

Six drinks that make the case for an underrated cocktail ingredient


Do you ever feel like no one’s listening?

For years, I have been apple brandy’s biggest advocate. Every fall, it seems, I write another piece extolling the virtues of Calvados or our own domestic versions. When people ask me what my favorite spirit is, I almost always say: “Apple brandy.” When they inevitably give me a raised eyebrow, I say, “Apple brandy is amazing! You must try apple brandy!” I am always serving Calvados to guests and I am always ordering apple brandy cocktails when out among friends.

Yet after all my apple brandy evangelism, I sadly don’t think I’m having much of an effect. People still seem totally perplexed by apple brandy.

Well, it’s fall again. And once again I am here to make my annual autumn pitch. This year, however, I’m taking a different approach. I’m not going to tell you a romantic tale of visiting Calvados producers in Normandy, France. I’m not going to regale you with nostalgic stories about applejack, aka Jersey Lightning.

Instead, allow me to cut to the chase. Ok, Cocktail Enthusiast, let’s you and me make a deal. I’m including six of my best apple brandy recipes here. If you make these cocktails and don’t like any of them, I promise to leave you alone about apple brandy from now on.

If you’re willing to take me up on this, you’ll need to go buy an apple brandy. While I’d love to tell you to invest in a wonderful aged Calvados made in Normandy, France by a top producer such as Roger Groult or Christian Drouhin, you’ll be needing to pay over $50 for anything aged over 8 years. I realize that this is one stumbling block with apple brandy. But there are alternatives.

For starters, look for a Calvados, at under $40, like Domaine Dupont Fine Reserve, aged a minimum of three years, with an irresistibly fresh aroma, an intense apple taste and a buttery finish. You can also look to the United States, to Clear Creek Eau de Vie de Pomme (from Oregon, aged eight years, $26 for a half-bottle) and St. George Spirits’ Heirloom (from Alameda, Calif., aged five years, $50). Though not as complex as Calvados, all deliciously capture the essence of apple.

But if you want to go even cheaper than that, the most straightforward choice is still Laird’s Bonded Straight Apple Brandy ($20). (This is NOT the applejack, which is instead a blend of apple brandy and neutral spirit). At 100 proof, Laird’s apple brandy is still a go-to for bartenders and works just as well as Calvados in cocktails calling for apple brandy or applejack. And if you want to improve your cocktail quality even more, you can buck up slightly more for Laird’s 7 1/2 year old brandy ($25), which is what I used recently to make all the delicious cocktails below.

I hope you will do the same. If you do, I promise you will become an apple brandy convert.

Apple Brandy Old-Fashioned

This drink wonderfully showcases your choice of apple brandy. Whether you use a Calvados or a domestic product such as Laird’s Straight Bonded Apple Brandy or Clear Creek’s Eau de Vie de Pomme, each spirit’s unique characteristics and flavor profile will come through.


1 teaspoon pure maple syrup
2 dashes aromatic bitters, such as Fee Brothers Old Fashion Aromatic Bitters or Angostura bitters
2 ounces apple brandy
2 or 3 ice cubes


Combine the maple syrup and bitters in an old-fashioned glass, then add the apple brandy and ice cubes. Stir gently for 10 seconds.

Makes 1 serving

Recipe source: Adapted from bartender Misty Kalkofen, co-founder of Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails (LUPEC).

Stone Fence

This is an early-American tavern drink that predates even the 19th-century cocktail guides. David Wondrich, in his book “Esquire Drinks,” says the name of the Stone Fence “hints at the effect produced by getting outside too many of these, which is not unlike that produced by running downhill into one.”

You can make a Stone Fence with bourbon, rye, applejack, or — in this case — apple brandy. Most Stone Fence recipes call for it to be served in a pint glass. We prefer to use a Collins glass, and therefore slightly less cider. Some of our favorite ciders are Farnum Hill’s Semi-Dry and Farmhouse ciders from New Hampshire, Aspall Dry cider from England, and Normandy ciders such as those from Etienne Dupont and Christian Drouin.


2 ounces apple brandy
2 ice cubes
chilled cider (6 to 7 percent alcohol)


Pour the apple brandy into a 10-12 ounce Collins glass. Add the ice cubes and fill with the cider.

Makes 1 serving

Recipe Source:
Adapted from “Barflies & Cocktails,” by Harry McElhone (originally published in 1927; reissue by Mud Puddle Books, 2008).

Philadelphia Scotchman

Apple brandy with port, orange juice, and ginger beer? Odd but delicious. The early-20th-century recipe for this cocktail called for applejack and ginger ale, but spicier ginger beer and real apple brandy (either Calvados or a domestic brandy, such as Laird’s Straight Bonded Apple Brandy) work much better. Any good ruby or younger, light tawny port works; we recommend Noval Black or Warre’s Otima 10-year-old.

The reason behind the drink’s obscure and puzzling name is mostly lost to history. It might be in honor of Hughie Hutchinson, a successful boxer who had that nickname (and died of pneumonia at age 22).


Ice cubes
3/4 ounce apple brandy
3/4 ounce port
3/4 ounce freshly squeezed orange juice
1 ounce chilled ginger beer


Fill a rocks or old-fashioned glass with ice. Add the apple brandy, port and orange juice. Stir, then top with the chilled ginger beer.

Makes 1 serving

Philly Sling

A sling is the oldest variety of cocktail and refers to a drink with a base spirit, lemon juice, sugar, and bitters. This sling, created by Derek Brown at the Passenger and Columbia Room in Washington, D.C., calls for two base spirits: apple brandy and sloe gin. Be sure to use only real sloe gin, such as the widely available Plymouth Sloe Gin.


1 1/2 ounces apple brandy
1 ounce sloe gin, preferably Plymouth
3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1 large lemon)
1/4 ounce simple syrup
2 to 3 dashes Angostura bitters


Fill a mixing glass halfway full with ice. Add the applejack, sloe gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and bitters; stir vigorously for 30 seconds. Strain into a cocktail (martini) glass.

Makes 1 serving

Widow’s Kiss

This old-timey cocktail pairs apple brandy with two French liquors with romantic, and mysterious, company stories. Benedictine is believed to be the world’s oldest liqueur, dating to 1510. Made from brandy and a secret infusion of herbs, the recipe is closely guarded at the Benedictine abbey in Fecamp, Normandy. Chartreuse is made in the Alpine town of Voiron, at a monastery called La Grande Chartreuse. There is little chance its secret recipe will ever be revealed. The only two Carthusian monks who know it have taken a vow of silence. Be sure to use yellow (not green) Chartreuse.


1 1/2 ounces Calvados or domestic apple brandy
3/4 ounce Benedictine liqueur
3/4 ounce yellow Chartreuse liqueur
Dash Angostura bitters
1 strawberry, for garnish


Fill a cocktail shaker two-thirds full with ice and add the apple brandy and liqueurs. Stir vigorously, then strain into a chilled martini glass. Drop in the strawberry and serve.

Makes 1 serving


This variation on a Manhattan is so named because, rather than rye or bourbon, it calls for Laird’s apple brandy, which was originally made in New Jersey. (In fact, applejack was once nicknamed Jersey Lightning). Created by Jim Meehan and John Deragon at PDT in New York, this drink also adds the bold flavors of the fierce Italian amaro Fernet Branca, as well as the cherry-nutty sweetness of maraschino. As always, maraschino liqueur is NOT the juice of maraschino cherries. A true apple brandy works best, but applejack can be used instead.


2 ounces apple brandy, preferably Laird’s Straight Bonded Apple Brandy
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
1/4 Fernet Branca


Fill a mixing glass halfway with ice. Add the brandy, vermouth, maraschino liqueur and Fernet Branca. Stir vigorously, then strain into a chilled cocktail (martini) glass.

Makes 1 serving

Photos by Michael Bucher

Jason Wilson is the author of Boozehound: On The Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits and the wine series Planet of the Grapes. He previously wrote the drinks column for the Washington Post, which has won awards for Best Newspaper Food Column three times from the Association of Food Journalists. Wilson is director of the Center for Cultural Outreach at Drexel University, which also publishes The Smart Set. He is series editor of The Best American Travel Writing, was previously the food columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News and Philadelphia Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @boozecolumnist


  1. Joan says:

    I love apple brandy and am looking forward to try these cocktails! Maybe I can win over a few converts with them….

  2. I made a pitcher of the Philadelphia Scotsman for a party this weekend, and it seemed to go over well–at least, the pitcher was emptied. I love port and brandy together in a cocktail, but I regret my decision to use a bottle of cheap orange juice, the kind you can buy at Staples and leave in the pantry until opened. It imparted a slight taste of cough syrup to the mixture.

Leave a Reply