Food & Drink » Flavor

On The Rocks (mixed messages)

by

comment

Apples are looking good in the markets right now; it’s the time of year when it’s easy to get your daily dose. It’s also the time when we think of apples in other forms: in pies, in stuffing … and, oh yes, in booze. Cider-based drinks are perfect for holiday entertaining — or simply enjoyed solo in front of a crackling fire. Or a fireplace screen-saver; we’re not fussy.

This investigation began with a published recipe for an apple cider cocktail that went like this (makes two drinks):

1/2 cup apple cider

1/4 cup Calvados (apple brandy)

1/4 cup brandy

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

2 tsp pure maple syrup.

Shake in a cocktail shaker with ice, strain into chilled glasses.

Yawn.

So I went to work trying to make it more interesting and, in honor of Thanksgiving, more American. First substitution: all-American applejack for the French Calvados. Yeah, I like Calvados, but the cheaper ‘jack has more, well, jack. I didn’t happen to have anything but French Cognac on hand, but you could easily substitute the classy Germain-Robin brandy made in California, or a less pricy but still good version from Korbel; for this drink, it doesn’t pay to pay too much.

Another adjustment: cut way down on the lemon juice and up the booze content. Feel free to play, but I liked this best with about equal parts cider, Laird’s Applejack, and brandy. The next question has to do with the cider or apple juice: is there a difference? No, not really. The trick is to find juice that hasn’t been made from concentrate, isn’t full of additives, and that doesn’t have white grape juice as a base.

I found two products among the many imposters at Central Market: CM’s own unadulterated Organics Apple Juice and a product from R.W. Knudsen called Cider and Spice — with genuinely desirable additives. (Since sediment is apparent in both, you may want to run them through a coffee filter.) The straight apple juice is honest stuff, but the spiced version suggested some new avenues of investigation: substitute it directly, substitute in part, reduce a couple of cups by half through boiling and use as an accent …

So I tried all of the above, along with a couple of other tricks. I made a simple cinnamon syrup by simmering equal parts sugar and water with a couple of cinnamon sticks. I crushed a few pink peppercorns in a molcajete to add as a fruity-peppery accent. Here’s the final result, but, again, feel free to fiddle: 1/3-cup organic apple juice mixed 50 percent with the reduced Cider and Spice, 1/3-cup applejack, 1/3-cup brandy, 2 tsp. agave syrup (yes, it’s less Yankee Thanksgiving, but I preferred its rounder flavor), 1/8-cup (you can always add more) fresh lemon juice, 1/2-tsp cooled cinnamon syrup, and a pinch of crushed pink peppercorns. Shake as above. Strain into two chilled glasses. Garnish the glass with a thin wedge of apple coated each side with lemon juice. And toast to the turkey.

I also riffed on another classic, the Stone Fence. Most recipes start with 2 oz. of bourbon, another American original, but they diverge from there. Pour over ice and top with fresh or hard cider is one possibility. I found a hard cider in the beer case at CM but didn’t much like it. I also tried Cidral, a Mexican apple soda. Nope. The straight juice made an OK but not distinctive drink. “Boiled cider” was another suggested additive. But what I liked best was either straight R.W. Knudsen Cider and Spice or organic apple juice mixed half and half with the reduced C&S. In any case, crushed pink peppercorn also worked, and a touch of the cinnamon syrup, good to have in your holiday drinks arsenal, wouldn’t hurt. Whatever variations you come up with (adding Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider was one I never got around to), try not to overwhelm the bourbon; it’s the soul of the drink. The apple juice is mostly there to make you feel less guilty. •


Support Local Journalism.
Join the San Antonio Current Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the San Antonio Press Club for as little as $5 a month.