What do Humphrey Bogart, Errol Flynn, Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck have in common? All knew how to drink well, and each counted the Jack Rose among their favorite cocktails.
Here’s everything to know about this underrated legend of a drink.
History of the Jack Rose Cocktail (and Applejack)
Although this easy-to-make American classic had fallen out of fashion since its popularity peaked in the 1920s and ’30s, it’s made a comeback in bars across the country. The base spirit is an apple brandy called applejack. Originally, it was made by freezing cider and removing the ice. This would concentrate the remaining juice, which would then be fermented and distilled, a technique known as “jacking.”
Applejack is often said to be America’s first spirit. It was introduced in 1698 by William Laird, a Scottish immigrant living in colonial New Jersey. His great-grandson, Robert, established the Laird & Company distillery in 1780.
It was Robert who George Washington reportedly reached out to personally, in order request his recipe and instructions on how to distill applejack himself. Laird’s has stated that Washington is the only outsider to ever possess their family recipe.
The spirit’s presidential credentials don’t stop there. Abraham Lincoln, America’s first and only licensed bartender-in-chief, served applejack in the tavern he owned before he sought office. (Lincoln charged 12½¢ per pint.) Franklin D. Roosevelt preferred his Manhattans made with the apple brandy rather than whiskey, and Lyndon B. Johnson once gifted a case to Alexei Kosygin, a high-ranking Soviet statesman, at the height of the Cold War.
As for the Jack Rose cocktail itself? The drink likely came about in the early 1900s. There are about as many origin stories surrounding this drink as there are famous historical figures that enjoyed it: According To Have and Have Another: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion, one story goes it was named for (and possibly created by) an early 1900s gangster named “Bald Jack” Rose. Others claim it was named after a French flower, which was named after a French general responsible for leading the army that dethroned the French King Charles X. Others simply believe it was a concoction born out people experimenting with applejack.
The Jack Rose cocktail is also notable for two literary connections. Jake Barnes, the fictional character in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, famously sipped one in the bar of Paris’s Hôtel de Crillon as he waited for Lady Brett Ashley. It’s also considered one of the six basic drinks (alongside the Old Fashioned, Daiquiri, Manhattan, Martini and Sidecar) in David A. Embury’s required reading for bartenders, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks.
The Key to a Good Jack Rose Cocktail
The key to a well-balanced Jack Rose is to tamp the sugar down in order to let the applejack shine, while at the same time adding enough lemon juice to provide crisp, slightly sour tartness. You can buy off-the-shelf grenadine for this recipe, but make sure to look for high-quality offerings made with real pomegranate and a minimum of additives. We’ve also provided a recipe for grenadine that you can make in minutes that will beat most store-bought offerings.
Alternatively, you can try this grenadine recipe.
How to Make a Jack Rose Cocktail
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u003cspan class=u0022NormalTextRun SCXW105885548 BCX0u0022u003eIn saucepan over medium heat, combine pomegranate juice and sugar. Stir until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and let cool. Add orange floweru003c/spanu003eu003cspan class=u0022NormalTextRun SCXW105885548 BCX0u0022u003e wateru003c/spanu003eu003cspan class=u0022NormalTextRun SCXW105885548 BCX0u0022u003e, lime juice and u003c/spanu003eu003cspan class=u0022NormalTextRun SCXW105885548 BCX0u0022u003evodka, if using. Stir well, and store in airtight container. Refrigerated, grenadine without vodka will keep for 1 month, or indefinitely with it.u003c/spanu003e
What Are Other Classic American Cocktails?
Whether you’re a budding at-home mixologist or seasoned bartender, it’s always good to have a baseline knowledge of classic cocktails. But what does “classic cocktail” mean, exactly? The Oxford Companion to Spirits & Cocktails writes that the term encompasses drinks that were an “important part of the success of the 21st-century cocktail renaissance.”
By this definition, the Jack Rose definitely fits the bill. But there are plenty of other classic American cocktails to explore. Try the Old Fashioned, whiskey sour, Manhattan and the mint julep to name just a select few.
What Are Other Brandy-Inspired Cocktails?
Brandy is one of the most expansive category of spirits. The majority of brandies are distilled from grapes (Cognac, Armagnac, grappa, pisco) or apples (Calvados, applejack, apple brandy). So naturally, brandy lends itself well to a wide array of drinks that run the gamut from light and refreshing to hearty and filling.
Take the Cypriot Brandy Sour, for instance. This sipper was developed for “King Farouk of Egypt when he stayed on the island of Cyprus in the early 1930s.” It mixes brandy and lemon squash (which is essentially a citrusy simple syrup) with a host of other ingredients.
And who could forget the Vieux Carré, a New Orleans classic? Similar to the Sazerac, it’s believed the Vieux Carré came about in the 1930s. Booze-forward and complex, it mixes Cognac with bourbon, sweet vermouth and a few other ingredients.
If you are looking for something a tad simpler, mix up an Open & Shut Brandy cocktail. The only catch is that it’s important to use top-shelf brandy, as there is no ice to dilute the spirit and only one additional ingredient (plus a garnish).
Alternatively, you can bring aprés ski to your home with the creamy and sweet Basement Milk Cocktail, created at the Tschuggen Grand Hotel in Arosa, Switzerland, which is right on the slopes of the Alps.
And if you really need to warm up? Try the Almond Orchard cocktail. Simply mix almond milk, Cognac, Maraska Maraschino Cherry Liqueur and Demerara syrup in a saucepan on medium-low heat until steam starts to rise.
Lastly, who could forget about eggnog? Yes, it is a brandy-spiked holiday staple, but we won’t tell anyone if you decide to enjoy it at any other time of the year.
This article was updated on March 21, 2023
Published: July 6, 2019