A while back I gave some of Laird’s Apple Jack a try, but unfortunately the only version I could find was a cheaper bottle that had been blended with some neutral spirits. It wasn’t the greatest representation of the spirit, and I’ve been searching for a bottle of Straight Apple Jack ever since. And thankfully, just in time for Thanksgiving this year, I found a bottle of the real deal and was very excited to give this 100% Straight Apple Jack a try.
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.
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 is pretty good, but this is where I think the cheaper version actually stands out a bit. For this straight expression, they went with a printed label that looks like aged parchment, but is actually printed on plastic. That gives this a very cheap feeling, which is unfortunate. I think if they stuck with the semi-transparent look and feel we saw on the blended version, it would have had a much better impact and been a bit more of a modern take on the concept.
I can’t help shaking the feeling that I’m sniffing a green Jolly Rancher here. There’s a tremendous apple aroma coming off the glass, but there’s also a good bit of alcohol joining it that gives it a bit of a sour tone. Mixed into the aroma there are also some baking spices and cinnamon, a bit of caramel, and a touch of vanilla.
Those notes all make it into the flavor as well, which is a delicious and welcome thing. The caramel and vanilla are the first and most resounding notes, followed by a bit of baking spices, and then the cinnamon is really what carries through to the end. Throughout, you’ve got the apple flavor in there supporting all of those components, always present but never quite taking center stage. All in all, the combination of those components is well balanced and nicely done, right until the end.
Just before you get to what I’d identify as the “finish” on the taste, though, there’s a good hit of sharpness that starts to attack my palate. It’s not necessarily a deal killer, and it almost acts like some of those same sharp notes and compounds that you’d find in a young VS Cognac. It’s something that probably could be tightened up and eliminated with a bit more time in the barrel.
My biggest complaint so far is that sharpness near the finish, which thankfully is something that ice does a damn fine job in eliminating.
Besides rounding out the texture, a bit of added ice also seems to really bring out the apple flavor. Instead of the barrel aging components being the most present, the apple finally takes center stage with the rest of the notes dancing in coordination around it. That’s the first flavor you get when you take a sip, followed by the baking spices, and then the caramel and vanilla on the finish.
It’s not often that I actually prefer a barrel aged spirit on the rocks, but this might be one of those times.
I’m actually a bit disappointed here.
With the blended and toned down version of this Apple Jack, I can understand why the apple flavor gets lost in the mix. It really isn’t a key player in the raw materials of the spirit and gets a bit washed out. But with this straight version I was expecting more… and, unfortunately, all I got was more of the same.
The apple flavor is just barely visible in this mixture. It’s a fight between the lime juice and the Cointreau for supremacy and neither is really winning. The apple peeks its head around the corner, makes a small noise, and then shrinks back away before either Godzilla or King King can notice. What’s left is an unbalanced cocktail that has some good acidity but really nothing else to show for itself.
There’s no doubt that this is a better version of Apple Jack than the other one. The flavors are more “punched in” and saturated, leading to a more delicious experience. The catch here is that while the flavors are there, the spirit could still benefit from some additional aging — it’s a little rough and sharp on the taste buds near the finish and a little bit more time cozied up next to some oak would do it a world of good.
|Laird & Company Straight Apple Jack 86|
Produced By: Laird & CompanyProduction Location: New Jersey, United States
Classification: Straight Applejack Brandy
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 43% ABV
Price: $21.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 3/5
A great example of a true American spirit, just in need of a touch of refinement.