John Chapman was a certified weirdo: Swedenborgian missionary, barefoot tree hugger given to wearing flour sacks and tin pots, and a serious apple zealot. Because of him, settlers along the American frontier had a head start on one of the real homesteader necessities-alcohol. As much as there is truth in the image of “Johnny Appleseed” as a benevolent nature-worshipping pilgrim (he was also that), he was a businessman to the bone and there was a distinctly practical point to his sowing seed apples all over the frontier. Planting 50 trees was enough to entitle someone to stake a legal claim on a swath of land, so for a few apple seeds, Chapman could make himself into a real estate mogul, and people could buy tracts of land with cider orchards already started on them. It was a very smart business model.
Cider (and applejack, and apple brandy) were necessities on the frontier and all the way up until Prohibition, when the government dealt a near-death blow to cider and to apple diversity. In recent years, cideries have made a comeback, though in some regions the damage to heritage apples might be irreversible (where I live, the best heirloom apples happen to occupy space also suitable for Pinot grapes-most farmers cannot afford to keep their trees). Brandy and eau de vie remain smaller niches at this point, but they are out there, and worth seeking out.
Copper & Kings “Floodwall” aged apple brandy is a really nice draft pick if you’re looking for a new cold weather cocktail friend. The brandy is aged in barrels and casks previously used to hold Kentucky bourbon and Oloroso sherry, and it has a fairly pronounced “whiskey-ness” to it, though it definitely tastes like apples. Sub-notes include walnut, almond, toast, dates and butterscotch. The finish is a little feisty (“hot” is probably a fair descriptor) but it calms down if you let it sit and open up for a bit. I recently cracked a bottle of this when I was in the mood for something warm and homey and I have to say it makes a very nice toddy. You can combine it with black or oolong tea, or warmed cider, or just hot water—add a little honey, a cinnamon stick, and if you want to get kooky, a couple of cloves or a bit of star anise or cardamom or allspice (a little lemon or mandarin juice is also a welcome component). It’s wintry, soothing, a nice digestive (or, if you’re liberal with the sweet elements, it can easily become a dessert) and while you might associate toddies with recovering from the flu or fending off a sore throat, believe me when I say they only taste better if you’re not actually sick.
Toddies are a pretty foolproof cocktail option with apple brandy, but if hot cocktails just aren’t your thing, this brandy is also great in a flip, a sour, a “French Mule” variant, or a slanted Old Fashioned. Basically, if you like apples, try this stuff in most recipes that call for brandy (and many that require whiskey). It’s much more versatile than you think.
Here’s a super simple cocktail from Copper & Kings to get you started.
2 oz. Floodwall Apple Brandy
3/4 oz. lemon juice
1/2 oz. grenadine
Directions: Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a coupe glass.