The story of Laird’s is as old as old as the country itself; it is Jersey history in a bottle. In short, applejack was a dubbed so because of the original method of distilling, otherwise known as “jacking.” Cider was chilled to a point where some of the water would freeze and separate out, concentrating the flavors and the alcohol content itself. This process is near identical to that of German Eisbocks.
In early colonial times, water was often unsafe to drink because it carried various parasites and bacteria, which could lead to gastrointestinal Armageddon and an early grave. It was common practice all across Europe to serve beer or wine with every meal since the alcohol in the beverages killed any unwanted parties. Importing these beverages from Europe proved far too expensive for all but the wealthiest in the new world. It was difficult to grow grains or grapes in these earlier times, so colonists turned to apples, which grew naturally and abundantly.
Hard Winters, Hard Cider
Apples were pressed for their juice and allowed to ferment, creating hard cider. This was the first beverage made by early colonists in the new world. The hard winters of the New England area brought about the process of jacking, otherwise known as ice distillation, and Applejack was born.
In 1698 Alexander Laird, a County Fife Scotsman, emigrated from Scotland to America aboard the ship Caledonia, accompanied by his two sons Thomas and William. William Laird first began producing applejack in 1698 in the soon-to-be-formed township of Colts Neck, New Jersey, using skills developed during time spent in the Scotch industry before his emigration. The applejack of this period was actually quite different from what we know today.
Descendants of William Laird founded the Colts Neck Inn in 1717 as a way station for travelers passing through the area. Here, one could get food, a night’s rest, and Applejack to quench their thirst. The spirit was one of the most popular things available at the inn, and the first commercial sale of the spirit was sold there in 1780 for a price of four shillings, six pence a gallon. This amounted to about half a days wage.
George Washington was such an avid admirer of the spirit, he wrote the Laird family sometime before 1760 requesting their recipe, which they gladly bestowed him with. In Washington’s post 1760 journal entries, he documented his production of “cyder spirits” while spending time at Mount Vernon before the Revolutionary War.
Robert Laird, the grandson of William Laird, served under Washington during the early years of the Revolutionary War and provided Washington’s troops with applejack. In 1780, Laird was granted the first commercial distilling permit for the as of yet unformed United States of America. Later that same year, the first sale of applejack was made at The Colt’s Neck Inn near the original distillery.
Records show that Abraham Lincoln sold Applejack in his New Salem saloon during the 1830’s, and Lyndon B. Johnson even gave a case to Soviet Premier Alexei Kozyginin in 1967. Applejack and Apple brandy were the first true American spirits; they were consumed by the founding fathers, laborers, and they have survived prohibition.
Today, the Laird family produces several different varieties; Applejack is a blend of 35% apple brandy and 65% neutral spirits, bottled in bond apple brandy which is subject to strict governmental regulation, 7 ½ year old apple brandy, and 12 year old apple brandy.
Recipe: Applejack Rabbit
If you are looking for a delightful cocktail to make at home, try the Applejack Rabbit. This cocktail was published in the 1927 prohibition cocktail book “Here’s How.”
- 2 oz Laird’s Bottled in Bond Applebrandy
- 3/4 oz Fresh Orange Juice
- 3/4 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
- 1/2 oz Grade B Maple Syrup
Shake and Strain into a Coupe glass.
The full selection of Laird’s products are available at my lab, Les Bons Vivants, inside The Cove and they are also available for purchase at Q-bin Liquor on Perkins.
– Joey Goar