Food & Drink

Fall is the time for aged apple spirits

Apple brandy brings a fruity touch to a fall cocktail.
Apple brandy brings a fruity touch to a fall cocktail. KEVIN GAVAGAN

As the leaves start to turn brown, so does the liquor in my glass. After the bright flavors of spring and summer, fall and winter are about aged spirits and depth of flavor. Apples are a key flavor in this part of the year as well.

Tying these ideas together, we get apple brandy, a spirit that got its start in France as Calvados, when the French began distilling the cider they were introduced to by the Spanish. America has a long and proud tradition of creating spirits from apples in the form of applejack, a less refined product than its French cousin with a slightly higher alcohol content, still produced by Laird and Co. in New Jersey.

Locally, we have Carriage House apple brandy, produced by Carolina Distillery in Lenoir. I’m very fond of this brandy, which has been in production since 2008.

More recently, Fair Game Beverage Co. has begun producing an apple brandy in Pittsboro but to my knowledge, it’s not yet available in Mecklenburg County.

There are many cocktails that call for these spirits. The Calvados Cocktail obviously calls for Calvados, and Jack Rose is the quintessential applejack cocktail. But why stick to the traditional when we can play with expectations?

One of my favorite ways to enjoy aged apple spirits is to substitute them into the venerable Manhattan. I’m sure I’m not the first person to do this or to use the name The Big Apple.

Using apple brandy in place of bourbon or rye gives you a fruitier drink without being cloying.

I use Carpano Antica as my vermouth when possible. The bitters for this drink can be a true wild card for making your version unique. The old standby, Angostura, is a good choice, or you can use a more seasonal variety. I have the Persimmon, Apple and Ginger bitters made by Raleigh’s Crude Bitters in my refrigerator.

The key to a great Manhattan is proper proportions and a good stir.

I’ve learned a neat trick for easily remembering the proportions. The famous area code for Manhattan is 212, and these are your proportions: 2 ounces liquor, 1 ounce sweet vermouth and 2 dashes of bitters.

This is a great template for starting to experiment at your home bar.

Kevin and Heather Gavagan are Charlotte cocktail nerds who host public and private cocktail events. Follow them on Twitter (@hauntbarCLT) or email

The Big Apple

2 ounces apple brandy, such as Carriage House

1 ounce sweet vermouth, preferably Carpano Antica

2 dashes bitters

Apple wedge or brandied cherry (optional; garnish)

Pour the apple brandy, vermouth and bitters in a mixing glass or tin. Add a scoop of ice cubes and stir 20 to 30 seconds, or until you can feel the mixing glass getting cold and starting to sweat. This amount of stirring allows for the proper dilution of the drink.

Pour into a stemmed martini glass or cocktail coupe and garnish with apple or cherry.

Yield: 1 serving.