Applejack and Calvados: Fall's Signature Spirits

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To read Derek's recipe for La Vie Antérieure, a cocktail combining apple brandy and rum, click here.

I've been waiting for fall since last winter. Fall is my time of year; crisp air and colorful foliage—the warmth of wrapping yourself in a snug sweater but not yet having to bundle in cavernous coats—it all appeals to my aesthetic sensibilities. But more important is the harvest. I love apples. Apples are one of the most wonderful and alluring fruits, both deceptively indulgent and seemingly erudite. The apple represents humanity's loss of innocence, everyday health, and academic excellence. Further proof of its symbolic renown: I'm writing from a laptop adorned with an apple.

Rather than being cursed with work and the pangs of childbirth, which is already our lot as humans, I found a lifelong love affair with apple brandy.

The first sip of alcohol I ever had was an apple-based beverage, applejack. Not the professionally made kind, which happens to be the United States's first spirit, but the primitive kind. The kind where you allow honest-to-goodness apple cider to ferment and freeze it, and then the remainder is a higher proof of alcohol—a process known as "jacking." My older brother had left the fermented cider in the freezer. It was his science project, let's say. Curious, I drank it.

Rather than being cursed with work and the pangs of childbirth, which is already our lot as humans, I found a lifelong love affair with apple brandy. Calvados, which is from Normandy in France, rates among the most excellent of apple brandies, although an old adage says that the best Calvados isn't sold. Meaning that it's traded among farmers. As I alluded to, Applejack is an American apple brandy mixed with neutral spirits in its base form but also sold as 100-percent apple brandy in smaller batches. Laird's virtually holds the monopoly on American applejack production, but many smaller brands producing apple brandy are appearing throughout North America. Chief among these is made by boutique cidery Michel Jodoin from Quebec. His eight-year-old XO apple brandy, aged in used barrels, has the elegance of a fine aged brandy with a fresh bite of apples. Its versatility in cocktails is astonishing.

Whatever apple brandy you choose, in honor of my favorite season I've created a great recipe to straddle the divide between warm days and cool nights: a recipe suitable for a scarf or not, increasing your knowledge and healthfulness while indulging your senses.

Recipe: La Vie Antérieure

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Derek Brown is a writer, illustrator, bartender, and co-owner of acclaimed bars The Passenger and Columbia Room in Washington, D.C. He sits on the board of directors for the Museum of the American Cocktail. More

Derek Brown is a writer, illustrator, bartender, and co-owner of acclaimed bars The Passenger and Columbia Room in Washington, D.C. He travels throughout the country and around the world in search of great drinks, and the stories behind them. Derek's methodical approach to cocktails was profiled in the Wall Street Journal's "A Master of Mixological Science" and his martini lauded as the best in America by GQ. He's been in numerous media outlets featuring his approach to better drinking, including CNN, The Rachel Maddow Show and FOX. Derek is a founding member of the D.C. Craft Bartender's Guild and on the board of directors for the Museum of the American Cocktail.
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