Monday, August 20, 2012

The return of the Jack Rose cocktail

Port Fonda has resurrected a lost cocktail.

Posted By on Mon, Aug 20, 2012 at 12:16 PM

If it was good enough for Ernest Hemingway, damn it, its good enough for you.
  • If it was good enough for Ernest Hemingway, damn it, it's good enough for you.

At the new Port Fonda restaurant in Westport, there are currently 13 imaginative craft cocktails on the drink menu, including a Technicolor pink Roselle Margarita (made with house-made hibiscus syrup and Solerno blood orange liqueur). The unexpected offering on the list is a classic cocktail that dates back to the early days of the 1900s, if not before. It's so classic, in fact, that Port Fonda is one of the few places in Kansas City — besides Manifesto, of course — where you can find one.

The cocktail in question? The Jack Rose — a combination of applejack brandy, lemon juice and grenadine — that
was the featured alcoholic beverage (the only one, actually) in one of the most lavish private homes in New York City: 840 Fifth Avenue, the mansion owned by the imperious Mrs. William Astor. The Mrs. Astor, who ruled New York society wearing fabulous diamonds and a purple-black wig from the mid-1800s until 1905. Guests at her dinner parties were permitted one cocktail before dinner: a small glass of Jack Rose.

Mrs. Astor had her own signature cocktail. Do you?
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Mrs. Astor had her own signature cocktail. Do you?
Flash-forward to 1926: the same year that the Astor mansion at 840 Fifth was demolished, Ernest Hemingway's novel The Sun Also Rises was published. The Jack Rose cocktail figures here as well. The narrator of the novel, Jake Barnes, is waiting for Lady Brett Ashley to meet him in a Paris hotel bar. While he waits, he orders a Jack Rose.

By the more sophisticated cocktail age of the 1960s, a Jack Rose was considered passe — even antique (the recipe is not included in a lot of bartending texts). So why has it become a popular choice at Port Fonda? "It's one of only two drinks on our cocktail menu that isn't made with tequila or mezcal," says the restaurant's head bartender, Travis Stewart. "And it's a very unusual classic cocktail."

Stewart first tasted the drink at Manifesto a few years ago. That saloon's stylish mixologist Beau Williams concocted one for him one night, and Stewart was sold: "It's not like a traditional brandy sour. It has a lot of depth," he says. "It's a very balanced drink. The brandy is assertive but not overpowering, and it's tempered by the citrus and our house-made grenadine, which is what really makes the drink."

"We make our our grenadine syrup from pomegranate syrup and finish it off with a little rose water, which does give it a light floral fragrance," says Stewart, who also uses Laird's 100-proof applejack brandy and lime juice before shaking up the rosy-pink cocktail.

A friend of mine has become entranced with the vintage cocktail: "It has a very light, citrusy note, but it's still strong, like a those old-fashioned cocktails that my parents used to drink," she says. "And it does smell like roses."

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