The ACME near my apartment closes at midnight. After 10, they close all the entrances but one, and after 11:30, there’s about 5 people in the place. Four of them are usually the worn out staff, one of them is usually me. Without any distractions, it’s easy to see when new products come in. I’m walking through the juice section and I see that Naked has a new offering for the fall: Naked Apple Chai. It’s an apple cider with chai tea spices. The best chai teas have milk, and the thought of apples and milk at the same time curdles my mind. It’s like drinking a cement mixer, or orange juice after you’ve just brushed your teeth. The acids and the bases don’t mix.
But then I got curious. My gut said the Apple Chai could either be disgusting, or it could be a unique flavor and mixer. Having the chai spices without milk (typically some proportion of cinnamon, ginger, cloves, cardamom, pepper, and anise) could enrich the cider with a backbone to stand up to something strong. What the hell.
I took one sip, and immediately thought: This is amazing. We need to mix this with Calvados!
Calvados is, depending on how strict your definition is, the oldest liqueur in the world. Apple Brandy has been made in France since the 1500s, and now as many as 200 different varieties of Apples are used. They are usually double distilled in traditional alembic pot stills, which unlike the charcoal stills used to make most vodkas, allow more complexity and character to remain. This means they have more cogeners, or impurities. If you’ve ever had a headache after drinking wine, you’ve experienced what cogeners can do.
The idea for mixing the Calvados with Apple Chai came from the experience of drinking Lindeman’s Apple Lambic beer. It’s a great beer to recommend to people who don’t like beer, because it’s sweet and fruit flavored , but under that initial sweetness, there’s a complexity there, a cider like dryness, and a sour aftertaste. I wanted to approximate that feeling in the drink. And mixing the oldest apple liqueur with the newest apple mixer seemed like a good way to do that.
Now the word Brandy is derived from the Dutch for burnt wine, because it’s wine that’s been distilled, which requires fire, and hence the name. And because I was using an apple brandy, I wanted to see if we could make an interesting garnish that we could light on fire. I asked Rich, with his culinary experience, if he could help:
“RICH! I want to light Cinnamon on fire! How can we make it work?”
“Well, if you just light it on fire, it’ll burn up like paper and sparkle, and won’t really add anything to the drink. But we can coat it with simple syrup and sugar, and I’ve been looking for an excuse to buy a blowtorch…”
What followed was the garnish recipe you’ll find below:
Sugar – 20 ozWater – 20 oz
Bacardi 151 for the fire
Cook Sugar and Water until sugar is dissolved. Then simmer Cinnamon Sticks for 30 mins. Cool Cinnamon Sticks. Coat Cinnamon Sticks in Powdered Sugar. Blow Torch Cinnamon Stick lightly until sugar is crystalized.
Blow Torch needed To carmelize sugar
Use 151 for the fire before sticking in drink
The drink itself couldn’t be simpler: 1 part Calvados and 2 parts Naked Apple Chai. We tried using the simple syrup the cinnamon sticks were soaking in to flavor it further, but the sweetness ended up drowning out the calvados and the natural sugars in the cider. The staff, and my unsuspecting roommates absolutely loved it. The cinnamon garnish is my favorite part of the drink. And it’s beautiful to light on fire and drop in.