Photos by Blue Rose Photography
The Spirit of Cider with San Juan Island Distillery Apple Brandy

Apple-based spirits have a long history in America (think back to colonial days). In fact, two of the oldest distilled spirits in the United States, apple brandy and applejack, have been served during important political gatherings, used as currency in exchange for labor, given as gifts to international leaders and even served as a delicious alternative to water in times before water was clean and convenient. Like cider, apple brandy was popular before all other distilled spirits appeared on the libation scene in the U.S. But with the rise in popularity of whiskey, many brandy distilleries either disappeared or converted to cheaper forms of distilling, like using grain or corn for a base. Today, the traditional art of making apple-based spirits in North America has been revived with exciting results. Here is just one way to enjoy these historical spirits in your home from one of the continent’s top craft distillers.

San Juan Island Distillery hails from its namesake — the beautiful San Juan Islands of Washington State. Producing brandy in the French Calvados style, the distillery uses apples from its small Westcott Bay orchard (home to its eponymous sister cidery), *distills the juice into apple eau de vie then carefully ages it in white oak barrels for several months, finally finishing in old French oak barrels. The award-winning spirit is rich and spicy with just a hint of salted caramel flavor, and can be served as is or in a variety of cocktails.

In this recipe, the homemade Rich Pomegranate Grenadine Syrup makes for an inspired version of the traditional Jack Rose cocktail, an early 20th century apple brandy sipper that was also a favorite of authors Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck.

Makes 1 cocktail

2 ounces San Juan Island Distillery apple brandy
¾ ounce lemon juice
1 ounce Rich Pomegranate Grenadine
Syrup (recipe follows)
Garnish: wide orange peel twist

Combine apple brandy, lemon juice and Rich Pomegranate Grenadine Syrup in a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice, cap and shake vigorously. Strain drink into a coupe or Martini glass. Express the orange peel oils over the top of the cocktail, then twist and add to drink.

Makes 1½ cups

1 cup pomegranate juice
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon orange flower water (optional)

Combine pomegranate juice, sugar and orange flower water in a small saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring just until sugar has dissolved then remove from heat. Cool to room temperature. Store refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.

*This story originally ran in Volume 6 of CIDERCRAFT magazine with an inaccuracy in the description of San Juan Island Distillery’s apple brandy. It has been corrected in this version.

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