What to Drink This Week: Apfelkorn
The autumn is a season of compromises. It’s a nice prelude to the unwavering absolutism of winter, which is determined to be cold and then just gets colder; it’s a relief from the unrelenting affability of summer, which is like a party guest who only has one really good joke and spends all night running it into the ground.
Yeah, the fall is a time of give-and-take, like:
- TAKEN: The mornings get cool, and evenings crisp.
- GIVEN: But the afternoons are still scorching, hooray! This wool sweater was the perfect choice!
- TAKEN: Cooler weather means don’t have to mow your lawn any more…
- GIVEN: …opening up the hours you’ll need to rake the hundreds and thousands of leaves that fall on your lawn from your neighbor’s yard.
- TAKEN: Patios
- GIVEN: Drinking on the couch, trying to find something that isn’t Major League Baseball or wedding shows
- TAKEN: An hour of your life, thanks very much Daylight Savings Time
- GIVEN: NOTHING IT IS A RIPOFF
And so on. Sure, when you’re wiping sleep out of your eyes and noticing that it’s pitch black at 7AM, you may feel like the fall isn’t particularly interested in your happiness — and for the most part, you’re right — but occasionally true balance is achieved.
Witness apples. Yeah, you can get them all year-round at the grocery store, but there are few insane thrills as complete as the first seasonal, local apples of the season. They are for some reason so much better, so much fruitier, so much apple-y-er than the ones that cruised in on a freight liner from Chile. It’s impossible to quantify, they just are.
For me, apples are as synonymous with October as clementines are with Christmas. The smell and the taste of them immediately bring memories crashing in from childhood (for good or ill), in my case of rolling around Price Edward County in my parents’ station wagon and buying bushels of apples for the coming winter. Because my grandparents were with us, there were never enough seats for everyone in the car proper, so someone always had to lie down in the tailgate and hope no cops would notice.
As strenuously as my sister would volunteer (this was in a time when it was still considered okay for four adults to smoke in a closed car with two children), I always got to be in the back, tucked in with gargantuan bags of apples and a boxer who loved to bounce more vigorously than Tigger. I can vividly remember being surrounded on all sides by apples that looked as big as my head, the scent of them creeping through the increasing number of holes our dog was poking in the bags as he explored the limits of his enthusiasm.
Moments like that come back to me every year, and this makes me a total sucker for all things autumnally-themed and apple-flavored. So it is that this is my favorite time to go digging into the back of our liquor cupboard and pull out the Apfelkorn.
As the name may have led you to conclude, Apfelkorn is a German liqueur, a wheat spirit that’s been blended with sweet, ripe apple. It has the flavor of apple juice that’s been in your fridge for maybe a little bit too long, in that both the sweetness and underlying fruity funk are both amplified.
As a liquor, though, it’s actually very light. Though the production and the composition would probably rank it as a Schnapps, it’s actually more dilute and nowhere near as strong. At 20% ABV, it’s very much a liqueur that you’d want to use as a contributor, because it does two things very well: taste like apples, and add just a little warmth.
Apfelkorn plays very well with warm cider to which you want to add a little kick, but aren’t particularly interested in brandy. It’s what you add to a martini to make it actually taste like fruit, rather than Sourz, which tastes like apple-flavored Jolly Ranchers (though that flavor, whatever crime it may be against nature, has its place too). It’s a way to do something creative with white wine you don’t want to drink on its own, and it can be your secret weapon to a great apple pie filling.
Relative to a lot of the other mixers you’re going to see on the shelf, Apfelkorn hasn’t been around for that long. A product of the 1970s German cocktail culture (mark that among phrases I never thought I’d use in my life), its popularity has given rise to a line of fruit liqueurs — but for my money, none of them hit the mark quite as well as the original.
Perhaps it’s my nostalgia at work, but to me Apfelkorn will always represent that full, ripe apple flavor that I’ve permanently associated with the fall. At less than $20, it’s an easy purchase to justify, if for no other reason than to have an apple cocktail on hand to make me feel better about Daylight Savings Time.
For example, the Whackintosh:
- To a chilled shaker, add ice
- Over the ice, add 1 oz. of dark rum (I like Newfoundland Screech)
- To the rum, add 1 oz. of Apfelkorn
- Shake vigorously
- Pour the rum, Apfelkorn and ice into a rocks glass
- Finish the glass with your choice of sparkling hard apple cider (the scrumpier the better — loathe as I am to say it, Bulmer’s is a good choice)
Your reward? A light, fizzy, refreshing but still full-bodied cocktail to remind you about everything that’s great about apples — brightness, sweetness and the amazing ease with which they disguise heft amounts of alcohol.
There aren’t a whole lot of reasons to be excited about the end of summer, but in the spirit of compromise, the fall does what it can: cool evenings that are fun to walk in, bright harvest moons to gawk at, Thanksgiving dinners, and apples. Take advantage of them all, and you’ll be right in the spirit of the season.