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Apples in fall

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Apples and allspice make for fall cocktail magic in this drink from Jerry Slater

In his debut Southern Kitchen column, restaurateur, cocktail maestro and cookbook author Jerry Slater creates fall drink alchemy with a blend of Scotch, sherry and a couple secret ingredients for a truly sensational seasonal sipper.

Since it's finally feeling like fall, it's about time to mix up a spiced cocktail. 

If you read that and thought “pumpkin spice,” I understand. It seems to be ubiquitous. But, being a Southerner in North Georgia, I always think of apples when the leaves start to change and the morning is cool enough for coffee on the porch.

Apples are my wife’s favorite fruit. She loves them so much so, in fact, that I used an apple-picking venture in Elijay, Georgia, as an excuse to lure her to the base of Amicalola Falls in order to propose. (It worked.)

But like a good Southerner, transplant or otherwise, she only wants to eat fruit that's in season. With this in mind, I created a spiced apple cocktail called The Alchemist, to sip on crisp autumn evenings.

North Georgia may boast of its apples, but the fruit is also plentiful from the early settlements of Maryland through the Appalachian range of the Carolinas, Kentucky and West Virginia. Fruit orchards, especially apple orchards, were required of Southern tenant farmers as far back as the mid-1600s. Many of those leasing and working those lands were of Scottish and Irish descent.

So to build my spiced apple drink, I started with one of the more precarious and harder-to-mix spirits: Scotch whisky.
Use a blended Scotch for this cocktail; that way you won’t overpower the drink with the peatiness of a single malt whiskey, and you won’t break the bank on your cocktail-making. Something easily accessible, like Dewar’s, is good, or up your game to one of my favorites: Compass Box Great King Street. Next, I balance out the Scotch with dark Oloroso sherry, which adds a rich and nutty complexity to the mix.

Let’s go back to those apples for a minute.

As a little kid on a West Virginia farm, fried apples were a regular breakfast item, along with ham and eggs. But my mainstay was my grandmother’s warm buttermilk biscuits, topped with a large spoonful of apple butter. Apple butter is a preserve made by slow-cooking apples until their sugars caramelize and thicken into a delicious spread.

Use a tablespoon of the homemade variety, or a good commercial brand, like White House, made in Winchester, Virginia, since 1908. The fewer artificial thickeners you have in your apple butter, the less you'll have to swirl around your fine strainer to release the liquid cocktail.

The last ingredient is allspice dram. Be careful with this stuff, as a little goes a long way. Allspice dram, sometimes called pimento dram, is a liqueur usually made with Jamaican rum and infused with allspice berry, which seems to have the flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove all at the same time.

Does that flavor profile sound familiar? Eat your heart out, pumpkin spice.

The Alchemist
Double-straining the cocktail will remove ice crystals and any thick globs of apple butter from the drink.

Makes: 1 cocktail
Hands-on time: 5 minutes
Total time: 5 minutes

2 ounces blended Scotch whisky
1 tablespoon apple butter
1/2 ounce oloroso sherry
1/4 ounce allspice dram
Ice cubes

Combine the whisky, apple butter, sherry and allspice dram in a cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Shake vigorously until chilled.

Double-strain the cocktail by holding a small, conical fine mesh strainer between the shaker tin with a Hawthorne strainer (or a cobbler shaker with its built-in strainer) and the cocktail glass. Pour the cocktail through both strainers into the glass, using a bar spoon to swirl the ingredients inside the conical strainer if they are slow to strain. Serve immediately.

Photo Credit (allspice): Steven Jackson/Flickr (license)

Author image

Jerry Slater is the co-author of the newly published Southern Foodways Alliance Guide to Cocktails. He and his wife, Krista, will open their new Athens, GA, establishment The Expat in early 2018.