Apple Jack is as old as our great nation and was at one time the beverage of choice for thousands of our Colonial ancestors. They drank this wood aged apple brandy year round but it was especially favored during the Holidays and the cold winter months. That was then. Today Applejack is a forgotten flavor of the past. It’s something we think of frontiersmen, trappers, or Bo and Luke’s uncle Jesse drinking. Many have no idea what it tastes like or how to serve it so we leave it to collect dust on the retailer’s shelf. That’s unfortunate because we are missing out on some fantastic flavors, a strong connection to our past, and a spirit that can become as sophisticated as any when you know what to do with it.
Applejack came about out of necessity. Imported spirits from Europe were both scarce and expensive in the colonies. So New Englanders looked to their surroundings for suitable ingredients to make a spirit. Grain was in short supply but apples were plentiful throughout the east coast. This got the wheels turning in William Laird’s mind and as early as 1717 he was serving Applejack at his inn at Monmouth New Jersey. From then on the name Laird would be synonymous with Applejack. Before long George Washington was asking for the Laird’s recipe and in 1780 the family was granted the first license for a commercial distillery in America.
Laird’s is of course still in production today. They make two different Applejacks, 80 proof and 100 proof Bonded. Bonded refers to fact that it is produced in accordance with the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897. This means that it is straight Applejack and not blended with a neutral grain spirit or any other product, it’s bottled at 100 proof, and has been aged for at least four years in a federally bonded warehouse. Bonding came about as a consumer protection move to ensure that spirits weren’t being watered down or falsely labeled.
The 80 proof Laird’s Applejack is the most frequently available around town. It brings a soft nose of apple and a palate with cider like apple flavors. It works best for me in a Hot Apple Toddy.
Laird’s Bonded Applejack is bottled at 100 proof and is the bigger bolder version of the two. It’s not as easy to find but is well worth the trouble. The nose is much fuller than its 80 proof brother and the palate is far richer in flavor. You’ll find robust and earthy apple flavors. The cider flavor is full and is backed up by caramel and spice notes. The aging really shows in the depth of the palate and length of the finish. The Bonded product is fantastic for the classic Applejack cocktail the "Jack Rose" and has been making its way into all sorts of new cocktail creations. Like this…
Monmouth ’78 (1778 that is)
2oz Laird’s Bonded Applejack
.5oz Cherry Heering
.75oz fresh lemon juice
.25oz simple syrup
One dash Angostura Orange Bitters
Build all ingredients in shakes, ad ice, shake, strain into cocktail glass, and serve up.
Garnish with flamed orange disk.
I came up with this lighter twist on a Jack Rose while looking to make something that fit the season. The Cherry Heering gives the drink a soft herbal and nutty note that takes a little edge off of the Applejack’s robust character.
The name? George Washington was the inspiration. Of course there’s the story of George and the cherry tree thus the Heering. George is known to have enjoyed Laird’s Applejack which in those days was produced in Monmouth New Jersey. A place Washington would become well acquainted with when he defeated the British at the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse in the summer of 1778.
Hot Apple Toddy
2oz Laird Applejack
.75oz fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon brown sugar
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Put all ingredients in coffee cup or other suitable hot cocktail glass. Ad 2oz of hot water, stir, and taste. You can ad more water to taste but be careful not to make it too thin. Finnish with some fresh nutmeg over the top. This is a great cold weather warmer from me to you.