Most seasons have a signature cocktail. We drink fresh and fruity in the summer, brown and brooding in the winter. But what do we drink in the fall, other than apple cider? Apple cider cocktails. Specifically, this Cortland Jab.
This recipe features some of the season’s favorite flavors, with a special ingredient that may be new to you. Before we even get to the shrub, though, we add just enough apple brandy to make it count, fresh apple cider (often produced with sweet Cortland apples, hence the name), and a splash of hard apple cider. Fermented ciders are gaining popularity, and though there are delicious national varieties, we bet there is one made in your neck of the woods.
At your favorite cocktail bar or restaurant, you’ll likely find a selection of ingredients called “shrubs.” A shrub is a syrup made from cooked fruit and sugar (or other sweetener, like honey or maple syrup), strained and mixed with vinegar. Historically, it’s been used to preserve fresh fruit beyond its growing season. But today, mixologists use it as a fruity and acidic addition to cocktails.
Culinary Institute of America instructor Rory Brown explains, “The complex sweet-tart flavor profile adds complexity to cocktails, in a way that citrus cannot match. While one is not a replacement for another, a shrub allows for more variety.” Take that, lime wedges.
While we’re on the subject of cocktail ingredients that you may have to Google while no one is looking, a switchel is a sweetened mixture of water and vinegar, and bitters are concentrated alcohol-based mixtures flavored with botanicals, like orange peel or herbs (you’ll find those in this recipe, too). If you run into others, don’t be insecure about asking your bartender. Anyone who takes the time to create a beautiful cocktail is usually happy to talk about it.
We’ve used cranberries in this shrub, because who doesn’t love the classic cran-apple flavor combination? But shrubs are the perfect way to use imperfect fruit of any variety. Eat the best raspberries, blackberries, and apricots that you can find, then take the bruised, weirdly-shaped, and hopefully half-the-price quarts and cook them down to make your shrub. Use one fruit or mix and match for your favorite flavor pairings.
You may be wondering why this cocktail is called a jab. Well, here in the Hudson Valley, apple cider punches are popular party drinks. But since this cocktail has a higher alcohol content than the average punch, it calls for a smaller serving — which makes it less like a punch, and more like a quick jab. If you like your drinks on the gentle side, stir your shrub with fresh apple cider and a bit of ginger ale for a refreshing Cortland Caress.
Start to finish: 35 minutes
1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) apple brandy
3/4 ounce (1 1/2 tablespoons) Cranberry Shrub (recipe follows)
3/4 ounce (1 1/2 tablespoons) apple cider
2 dashes cardamom, orange or aromatic bitters
2 ounces (1/4 cup) sparkling hard apple cider
Cranberries, as needed for garnish
Orange peel, as needed for garnish
In a mixing glass, combine the brandy, shrub, cider, and bitters, and add ice. Stir until chilled, about 50 rotations.
Strain into a rocks glass over large ice cubes and top with the sparkling cider. Garnish with cranberries and orange peel.
Makes about 3 cups (about 32 servings)
1 cup water
2 1/4 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
2/3 cup maple syrup
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
Combine the water, cranberries, and maple syrup in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Simmer until the cranberries have burst and are soft, about 20 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh sieve, pushing the cranberries to release all of the juices.
Add the vinegar to the strained juice and stir to combine. Transfer to a jar or bottle. The shrub will keep in the refrigerator from 2 to 3 months.