We think of bourbon as the quintessential American spirit but well before the “shot heard ’round the world”, a different kind of distilled spirit was being produced in the colonies. Using the most readily available source of sugar, the Laird family was distilling their apple brandy known as Apple Jack.
Alexander Laird came to the United States in 1698, moving from his home in County Fife, Scotland to Monmouth County, New Jersey. Having worked as a distiller back in Ireland, he continued the practice in the New World using the most abundant crops available: apples.
The Laird family opened the Colt’s Neck Inn in 1717, producing their apple brandy (called “applejack”) in a building behind the inn. It became a popular stopping point for coaches in the area, including a visit from future founding father George Washington (who requested the recipe from the family in 1760). The distillery continued operation throughout the American Revolution, producing applejack for consumption by the Continental Army. The family would eventually be granted license #1 for the distillation of spirits in 1780 by the United States government.
Over the years, the distillery moved to Scobeyville, New Jersey, and continued operation through prohibition by producing non-alcoholic products such as applesauce and apple cider until they were granted a license for medicinal apple brandy in 1933. After prohibition ended, the company expanded to two additional distilleries, and then (due to the lack of apple orchards in New Jersey) moved their apple brandy production to the new Virginia-based distillery.
The company remains a private family owned and operated business to this day.
Technically, “apple jack” is a type of brandy made from distilling apples. As such, this spirit starts as a brand new crop of Virginia grown apples that are crushed and juiced to extract the sugary liquid within. That liquid is then fermented to create a mildly alcoholic beer, which is distilled in copper pot stills to extract the alcohol content.
Once the brandy has been produced, it is placed into oak barrels to age for an undisclosed period of time. After that oak barrel nap, for this version of their product, the newly made apple brandy is then mixed with neutral grain spirits to reduce the price and increase the volume of production.
Overall, the bottle design is simple but it’s reminiscent of the older styles of spirits bottle — which is consistent with the deep historical roots of this company. The bottle generally looks like a wine bottle, with the exception of a significant bulge in the neck which makes pouring easier. The bottle is capped off with a plastic screw-on top.
The labeling, in my opinion, is perfect. The branding information is printed on a transparent label, allowing the color of the spirits inside the bottle to shine through. Most of the bottle is transparent, and there’s an eagle design on the back of the bottle that is visible through to the front, which is always a neat trick. Below that design is a small label that describes the story of the company in brief and contains the regulatory information about the contents.
It does a great job of conveying the historical legacy using aesthetic choices without going over the top. All in all, there’s nothing to fault here.
Put this next to a glass of apple cider and you’ll have trouble telling the two aromas apart. (Well, besides the alcohol content, I suppose.) There’s a bit of a tartness on the end of the aroma here, but overall it smells like sweet apple cider.
To be honest, I’m a little disappointed in the flavor. What apple flavor I can get is fantastic, delivering on the promise of apple cider alcohol… but it’s very muted. I suspect the blending with neutral spirits has hurt the final product, toning down the apple flavor too much and adding just a bit of odd grain alcohol flavor on the finish with a bit more of that bitter aspect.
Ice is the natural enemy of the light and fruity flavor in spirits. It’s great for toning down the more undesirable aspects of the spirit, but it also kills those lighter flavors with friendly fire.
In this case, that’s precisely what happened. The apple flavor was light to begin with and once the ice enters the mix, you’re down to about the level of apple flavor I’d expect from a fruit wedge dropped in a glass of vodka. It’s there… kind of. The majority of what I get in the flavor here is just a flat neutral grain spirit.
When I have a good cognac or brandy, I love a good Sidecar…but this sadly does not make for a ‘good’ Sidecar. All I’m getting here is the lemon juice and the Cointreau. Which is fine and certainly no inedible, but I’m missing the fruit flavor of the brandy in the mixture.
The mark of a good cocktail spirit is the ability to add something special to the flavor profile of a cocktail, not just alcohol content. And in this case, that’s not what I am getting.
I love the history. I like the branding and the bottle. I think the concept is good, but the problem here is that the added neutral grain spirits are washing out the flavor. The apple brandy is already somewhat delicate, and adding those additional spirits seems like an unfortunate choice.
Since there really aren’t many apple jack producers these days, it seems like rating this against itself would be a bit unfair. So we’re going to rate it compared to other non-Cognac brandy. And in that sense, it puts up a good fight but ultimately doesn’t make the cut. However, as a historical piece of American history and a uniquely American spirit, it might be worth a look.
|Laird & Company Apple Jack|
Produced By: Laird & CompanyProduction Location: New Jersey, United States
Classification: Applejack Brandy
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $19.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 2/5
As American as apple pie, but I fear Washington would be disappointed with this recipe.