Applejack is a characteristically sweet alcoholic beverage made from apples. The drink was originally derived from apple brandy — possibly the French version, called calvados. In modern times, though, the beverage is essentially distilled or concentrated hard cider. It is believed that this distilled beverage has been consumed since at least the 17th century, though it wasn’t commercially produced and distributed until 1780. Commercially produced applejack is often made by diluting apple brandy with grain alcohol.
It can be made a few different ways. The most popular methods would be freeze distillation — more accurately dubbed fractional freezing or fractional crystallization — or evaporative distillation. During evaporative distillation, the different components of applejack — the juices, water, and air — are separated from each other. To be clear, the method of distilling is a process of separation rather than a chemical process. Freeze distillation, however, is the traditional colonial method of making the apple alcoholic beverage and therefore known as the preferred method. During this process,
In the modern United States applejack is primarily produced by Laird & Company, a New Jersey based distillery. William Laird — said to be a previous producer of scotch — began producing the beverage for personal use in 1698 due to the plethora of apple trees in the area. While the first actual records of the Laird family’s alcoholic apple product production date to 1780, the distilled beverages were produced all throughout the 1700s by William Laird’s family.
Today, Laird & Company is the oldest operating distillery in the U.S. For centuries, it has been in business, operating first as Colts Neck Inn. The inn sold travelers and locals the alcohol, and the inn’s applejack was also supplied to troops during the Revolutionary War. The business overcame a fire that burnt the distillery to the ground in 1849, and when it reopened across town in 1851, the drink began to be commercially produced.
During Prohibition, the Laird’s distillery was forced to switch gears and survive by producing apple juice and apple sauce. Illegal distilleries still produced a bootlegged copycat version of the beverage throughout the era. Eventually during Prohibition, Laird & Company was given permission to sell hard cider for medicinal purposes. When Prohibition ended, Laird & Company bought out the illegal distilleries in order to mass produce applejack as a high quality, great-tasting product. By the 1990s, the company claimed to be producing approximately 95 percent of the applejack sold in the U.S. market.