Laird’s Apple Jack- America’s First Licensed Distillery

It’s autumn now and that makes me think of applejack…

Laird’s applejack is not whiskey, but it was the first licensed distillery in the United States. I’m particularly proud of the beverage because I grew up in New Jersey and have been to the Inn where it was originally served many times.

Laird’s Applejack was originally produced for sale at the Colt’s Neck Inn in central New Jersey. The Inn was built in 1717 by an ancestor of the Laird family, and the apple brandy they served to travelers there was reportedly very popular. The distillery at the Colt’s Neck site was built in 1780 and thrived until it burned down in 1849. The Inn was rebuilt on the same site, but the distillery was moved to Scobeyville, N.J.

Laird’s survived Prohibition (they were granted a licence to make medicinal apple brandy) and only halted production during WWII when the plant was converted to drying and dehydration of apple pomace for pectin and other products to aid in the war effort. In 1951, the one millionth case was packed of Laird’s Applejack since the repeal of the 18th amendment.

The term “applejack” derives from “jacking”, a term for freeze distillation. Basically, fermented cider that was collected in the autumn could be left outside to freeze, and chunks of ice would be removed periodically to raise the alcohol content from about 10% to 35-40%. Laird’s is not freeze distilled, but is a distilled brandy blended with neutral spirits. (35% brandy and 65% neutral spirits) The brandy is pot distilled and aged in charred oak barrels. There are older versions, as well, at 7 1/2 and 12 years old.

Sadly, Laird’s Applejack is no longer made in New Jersey. Since 1972, the company has obtained all its apples from orchards in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, where Laird & Company owns a distillery. Seems New Jersey’s plentiful apple orchards were disappearing and most that were left were making only juice. However, it is blended, aged in bourbon barrels, and bottled right there in Scobeyville.

When the fall arrives, I like to make a few different Laird’s mixers. One is just a bit of applejack with bourbon in a mug of fresh cider. The other is this…
Autumn Manhattan
Drink Type: Martini
2 oz. Bourbon Whiskey (more Bourbon Whiskey drinks)
1 oz. Sweet Vermouth (more Sweet Vermouth drinks)
1 oz. Applejack (more Applejack drinks)
2 splash(es) Bitters (more Bitters drinks)

Shake softly in shaker until too cold to handle .Pour straight-up into martini glass.Add slice of fresh red apple.lairds