A few months back, the editor of a new drinks magazine out of Scotland called Hot Rum Cow contacted me to talk applejack for the next issue of his magazine. How could I refuse him? Apples? Scotland? I’m in. We had a great chat and the issue is now out (preview here).
Seeing the story (in an issue dedicated to cider) reminded me that winter is prime applejack season. Applejack is hard cider’s burly cousin, the one with an edge that breathes fire, particularly in its colonial American incarnation.
Early Americans made applejack at home. In the winter. They would fill a barrel with cider in the fall and then leave the barrel outside to freeze. As the water froze, they would skim off the slush leaving the alcohol behind. A few times through this freezing process yielded a highly potent and potentially dangerously impure drink behind. How dangerous? Some referred to applejack as “the essence of lockjaw.”
Applejack like hard cider was vital to colonial life. Apples grew where grains and grapes did not. Everyone had an orchard, and turning apples into alcohol was an efficient and easy way to preserve a harvest too large to consume as whole fruit. Applejack even helped to fuel revolution as Laird (the oldest commercial distillery in the U.S.) supplied George Washington and his troops with applejack.
Today, of course, distillers use more controlled methods of making applejack so we can drink without fear. And thankfully, there’s more of it to drink as applejack seems to be benefiting from the cocktail boom.
There are so many places that brag that George Washington rested his ponytail on their beds – it seems far cooler to me to say you drank what George drank.