Apple Brandy and Whiskey, Three Ways

I’ve been in a months-long straight spirits phase, enjoying bourbon and rye neat rather than mixing any cocktails. It started last summer when I got weary of complicated cocktails and the frustration of missing obscure ingredients or unique bitters. And then I got so busy that spending ten minutes crafting a perfect cocktail wasn’t fun—simply pouring a glass was much more rewarding.

I’m coming out of that phase now and what’s pulling back to cocktails is a handful of simple twists on classics, all made with a combination of whiskey and apple brandy.

Rittenhouse Rye and Laird's Apple Brandy

It started with cocktail writer Warren Bobrow’s shrub, the General Stark’s Battalion Shrubb Cocktail. When I happened upon this recipe on the Drink Up NY blog, I was thrilled to see that I had all the ingredients at home already. A shrub is a very old class of cocktail, based in food preservation—mixing fruit with sugar, vinegar, and sometimes alcohol made it last longer. I generally think of a shrub as any cocktail with a mix of sweetened vinegar in it but some cocktail historians may quibble with that. Bobrow’s recipe is a very simple apple cider vinegar and maple syrup mix. Add to that a bit of apple brandy and whiskey (Bobrow calls for bourbon, specifically Four Roses, but I’ve tried it with Rittenhouse rye) and some bitters and you have a complex mix of flavors. If you’ve never tried vinegar in a cocktail before, it’s surprising how well it works. Think of it like lemon juice or any other acid. As long as you balance it with some sweetness, it’s quite nice. (See also the Bufala Negra cocktail with bourbon and balsamic vinegar.)

Lairds and Rittenhouse ManhattanA week later, I saw a story about Manhattans in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Jesse Held, a bartender at Parlour in downtown Minneapolis, makes his Manhattans with a combination of Laird’s bonded apple brandy, Bulleit rye, Antica Formula sweet vermouth, cinnamon and Bittercube Blackstrap bitters. Again, that combination of sweet appley brandy and spicy rye really works. I think rye works a little better with apple brandy than bourbon would because of that spicy characteristic (bourbon tends toward the sweeter side). I tried this at home (leaving out the cinnamon) with Laird’s, Rittenhouse, Antica Formula and plain old Angostura bitters. Delightful.

Once I tried that, I realized the apple brandy and rye combo may be suitable for one of the simplest cocktails of all: the Old Fashioned. It worked very well. In fact, when I gave my wife a sip, she preferred the Old Fashioned to the Manhattan. I’m sure this has been done by many bartenders before, and that someone has named it along the way. Whatever you call it, it’s a fine take on a simple classic.

Here are my slightly modified versions (I’ve changed some proportions to suit my taste and substituted rye for bourbon in the shrub and Rittenhouse for Bulleit in the Manhattan) of the three apple brandy and whiskey cocktails, all of them using Laird’s and Rittenhouse. Note that both the rye and the apple brandy are 100 proof (50% abv). Higher alcohol spirits are a bit easier to work with, dilution-wise.

General Stark’s Battalion Shrubb Cocktail

1.5oz Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy
1oz Rittenhouse Bonded Rye
1oz maple syrup (preferably the darker Grade B variety)
.5oz apple cider vinegar
2 dashes Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas Bitters

Parlour Manhattan*

1oz Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy
1oz Rittenhouse Bonded Rye
.5oz Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Old Fashioned**

1oz Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy
1oz Rittenhouse Bonded Rye
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 sugar cube

*I’m torn between a half ounce of Antica and three-quarters of an ounce. Closer to a half ounce makes the Manhattan a bit dryer on the palate.

**As a side note, check out Parlour’s version of the Old Fashioned on their menu: it uses a combination of Old Grand-Dad 114 bourbon, which is a high-rye content bourbon, and Old Overholt rye. Another notable detail: instead of sugar or simple syrup, Parlour uses Piloncillo, an unrefined Mexican style of sugar.

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