When we hear the name Jersey Roots applied to a cocktail, the first thing that comes to mind is some energy drink and gold-flaked-vodka monstrosity, or perhaps a particularly unfortunate dye job on the boardwalk. But for co-owner and bartender Sean Maher of Barrel House American Bar in Beverly, it’s a lot more literal than that. Like anything that takes applejack, an apple brandy, as its base, the cocktail comes with some deep historical roots of its own, and that’s before we even get to the actual “root” part of the recipe.
“AppleJack, it’s made in New Jersey. It’s one of the longest family-run distilleries in the country,” Maher explains about AppleJack made by Laird & Co. The style of apple brandy the spirit was born from dates to the Colonial period; Laird has been in operation for 300 years. The mythology surrounding the spirit is abundant, with figures like George Washington and Johnny Appleseed supposedly among its advocates. But you don’t need to be a student of history to appreciate the intense fruit bite of the spirit. For his cocktail, Maher uses the even sturdier “Bottled in Bond” version, which is bottled at 100 proof without the addition of neutral grain spirits, like more common varieties.
“It’s basically a brandy, but it’s treated like whiskey, but made all from fruit,” says Maher, who came up with the cocktail working at Eastern Standard. “You get a little bit of the burn, like whiskey, it’s pretty versatile, but approachable for people who aren’t ready to jump into a huge whiskey cocktail.”
A second spirit with some historical context of its own also comes into the mix: Root, a liqueur based on 18th-century “root tea,” which had its alcohol removed and became what we think of as root beer around Prohibition, is another key ingredient, bringing in notes of sarsaparilla, sassafras, and vanilla.
“The Root isn’t as prominent, but almost works the way mulled cider does, with the spices hidden in background,” Maher says. The recipe takes on some added sweetness and nuttiness from the addition of orgeat, a syrup made from almonds and rose water. Tying everything together is the binding froth of egg white. Says the bartender: “It’s a mellow, smooth, not overly boozy, aromatic drink.”