A Continental Spirit: Applejack America's First Brandy

A Continental Spirit: Applejack America's First Brandy

by Michael Satterfield - 12/06/2021

I am a bit of a history nerd and no matter what the subject matter is, I tend to do a deep dive, so when a few apple-based spirits showed came across my desk I had to learn more about apple brandy better known as Applejack which is a uniquely American drink first made during the colonial era. 

First distilled in 1698 in colonial New Jersey by a Scottish immigrant named William Laird, the drink was originally called Jersey Lighting. Laird's grandson Robert would go on to serve in the Continental Army and eventually license the family distillery in 1780, making it the oldest licensed Applejack distillery in the United States and is still in production to this day. 

Applejack would lose some of its popularity since it was often more expensive to produce than rum and whiskey, with Prohibition many producers switched over to just selling apple juice, with many returning to production once Prohibition was repealed in 1933. Recently a number of small craft distillers have brought Applejack back into the mainstream, like Tamworth Distilling and Rootsock Spirits which I am sampling today. 

The name Applejack comes from a traditional method of increasing the alcohol content in the drink, called "jacking" where the fermented cider is frozen then the ice is removed, thus increasing the alcohol content. Traditionally this would be done by moving barrels outside during winter and removing the ice leaving just the unfrozen alcohol. Today most Applejack is produced through evaporative distillation, meaning no one has to fish out chunks of ice from barrels all winter long. Today Applejack is also defined as a blend of at least 20% apple and neutral grain spirit that must be aged at least two years. 

Just like Whiskey, there are a lot of different types of apple-based brandy. New Hampshires' Tamworth Garden offers a V.S.O.P. which means it is bottled under the standards of both the Bottled in Bond Act of 1987 and the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac in 1983. To earn this designation the brandy must be produced by one distillery, a single season, aged for four years and bottled at 100 proof, with no artificial colors, other spirits, or other brandies mixed in. Other bottles from Tamworth Garden may have lower alcohol volume, aging requirements, or blends, but the VSOP is their top-rated and most expensive bottle. 

A Continental Spirit: Applejack America's First Brandy

The Tamworth Garden V.S.O.P. has notes of baked apple, tobacco, with hints of vanilla and cinnamon, drink as you would any other brandy or use it to make an opulent cocktail like the Jack Rose, Applejack Sour, or add a little southern flair and make a Peach Smash.

Tamworth Garden V.S.O.P. 

Retails for $75 SHOP HERE

A Continental Spirit: Applejack America's First Brandy

Rootstock Spirits offers a 2 and 5-year Applejack, distilled by the DeFishers, a 5th generation family of fruit farmers who take pride that they control the process from growing the fruit to bottling and using USA-based suppliers. Rootstock also offers a 2-year bottle of Applejack. The 5-year is lighter and milder in apple flavor but offers a smooth nutty flavor that finishes with spice and apples. Good on its own, amazing in a cocktail, it makes for an amazing Applejack Old Fashioned. 

Rootstock Spirits

Retails for $55 SHOP HERE