Review: Black Dirt Apple Jack Brandy

My wife grew up in the Black Dirt region of New York State — what I consider “upstate”, although she’d fight me over that label. Either way, it’s a region that makes some delicious produce and sports a quirky and interesting distillery that makes some fun spirits I’ve enjoyed in the past. When I saw that they had released a Bottled-In-Bond Applejack (possibly the most quintessential of New York spirits), I knew I had to give it a try.


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History

The Black Dirt region of New York State is known as one of the most fertile farmlands in the entire United States. Once the site of a great inland lake following the last ice age (roughly 12,000 years ago), the collected fertilizer from that ancient biomass of prehistoric fish and wildlife gives the local soil its eponymous black color. This 5,500 acre region is alone responsible for half of the onions grown in New York State, as well as a large variety of other crops.

The Black Dirt Distillery folks started distilling while they were originally at the Warwick Valley Winery and Distillery, creating a couple brands of spirits that were getting some significant attention and sales. In order to meet that demand, co-owners Jason Grizzanti and Jeremy Kidde founded Black Dirt Distillery in March 2012 and began expanding their product offering to include other liqueurs and brandies.

Product

Apple Jack brandy is one of the most quintessentially American spirits, tracing its origin all the way to the founding of the country when George Washington himself was said to be fond of the stuff. It’s also a very quintessential New York spirit, as 100% of the raw materials in this bottle come from New York apples.

Normally with a spirit, there’s some prep and cooking to be done first — but with a sugary, fruit-based spirit, all that really needs to be done is to turn the apples into a slurry and add some yeast. The yeast will proceed to do all the work, turning that delicious sugary liquid into alcohol that is then distilled to create brand-new brandy.

What makes this interesting is that it is a “bottled in bond” labeled spirit, meaning that after distillation all of the newly made brandy is placed into charred new oak barrels and stored in a bonded warehouse for a minimum of two years (four years in the case of this apple jack). That spirit is then blended with other barrels from the same distilling season (a six month window) and from that same distillery, and bottled at no less than 50% ABV.

Packaging

The bottle itself is a design we’ve seen before, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a traditional liquor bottle with rounded sides, a slightly flared bottom, and a rounded shoulder that rolls into an elongated neck.

What makes this interesting is the labeling on the bottle. The brown paper and the font speak to the age of the region and I find it visually appealing, but the red font over top a red print image does make the words “Apple Jack” a little bit tough to see. Even with the rather large label, the bottle still does a great job of ensuring the spirit is visible through the bottle, displaying that beautiful amber color.

Neat

That apple aroma is front and center in this glass, shining bright and beautiful. It’s not alone, though — there is a complex supporting cast of aromas, specifically some brown sugar, a bit of vanilla, and some baking spices like a dash of nutmeg. The end result is that this smells exactly like a caramel apple that you’d get from a cart at the county fair.

Those components carry over into the actual taste as well, but so much more going on here than you’d expect at first sniff.

The apple remains the star of the show and the biggest flavor component, and caramel and vanilla are next in line in terms of power and saturation. But there’s also more dried fruit and barrel aging notes than you’d expect. I’m getting some dried apricots, figs, plums — basically an entire fruitcake in my mouth. The apple remains the biggest component by far, but that diverse array of supporting characters we saw on the aroma really shows up well in the flavor too.

On Ice

Usually, with a little bit of ice, you’d expect most of the flavors to drop out of a spirit — especially the lighter and sweeter ones. This is usually bad news for apple brandy — but in this case, I think it actually holds up pretty well (probably thanks to the higher proof spirit we’re working with).

There is a major change, though: apple is no longer the star of the show here. Those dried fruit components — the apricot, plums, figs, and fruitcake-y rancio notes — are what comes across first, just like with a finely aged Cognac. The apple is still there and making an appearance, but now it’s part of the chorus instead of being a soloist.

This is still a great sipping drink in my opinion. Sweeter and fruitier than something like a bourbon, but with enough character and flavor to hold your attention.

Cocktail (Sidecar)

What I’m looking for here is a good balance between the bitterness of the lime juice, the citrus of the Cointreau, and the sweetness of the apple flavor in the applejack. And that’s exactly what I got.

This is an absolute banger of a cocktail. My wife found it a bit strong;, but as someone who drinks whiskey regularly, I found it to be spot-on. Not only is the apple coming through and balancing with the other citrus components, but that dried fruit we saw earlier adds a bit of depth and complexity that really makes this delicious.


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Overall Rating

This is, without a doubt, the best applejack brandy I’ve ever had. I’ve tried the versions from Laird’s (the original producers of this in the United States), but they always left me wanting something a little more well aged and refined. That’s exactly what I’m getting here.

What we have here is an American apple brandy that is pulling off some of the same amazing maturation notes as you’d find in a fine French Cognac — and doing so with a delicious and cohesive flavor profile. Not only is the apple well saturated, but the barrel aging flavors are taking this to a whole new level.

This has absolutely earned a spot on my bar, and I foresee many more sidecars in my future.

Black Dirt Distillery Apple Jack Brandy
Production Location: New York, United States
Classification: Applejack Brandy
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 50% ABV
Price: $49.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating:
All reviews are evaluated within the context of their specific spirit classification as specified above. Click here to check out similar spirits we have reviewed.

Overall Rating: 5/5
A delicious apple brandy full of complex dried fruit notes — and it makes for some delicious cocktails, too.


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