Recently I’ve become very interested in trying Calvados (if anyone can recommend a somewhat affordable bottle to start with, I would greatly appreciate it). I thought I would begin though with its American cousin Applejack. Applejack has a long and very American history. The Laird family, producers of the widely available Laird’s Applejack, can trace their production in Monmouth County New Jersey back to 1698. As the NY Times notes:
George Washington, who owned large apple orchards, wrote to the Lairds around 1760 asking for their applejack recipe. In his diary he noted on Aug. 3, 1763, that he ‘began selling cider.’ During the Revolutionary War, Washington dined with Moses Laird, an uncle of Robert, on the eve of the Battle of Monmouth. Abraham Lincoln ran a tavern in Springfield, Ill., for a time; the Lairds have a copy of his bill of fare from 1833 offering applejack at 12 cents a half pint. That’s not cheap: dinner was 25 cents.
Not surprisingly, Applejack is made from apples, and the history of colonial America played an important role here. The cold weather and soil of the Northeastern colonies were not well suited to growing rye, barley, or corn for use in making spirits. Apple trees though were hearty enough to survive, and the cold weather allowed farmers to leave finished apple wine outside to freeze, removing the water to become more concentrated in both apple flavor and alcohol – a process known as jacking. As a result Applejack was a widespread and popular spirit.
I first poured myself a small glass to get a handle on the natural flavor of the spirit. The apple flavor is very subtle, and when drank straight this spirit is by no means sweet, but is very smooth with a bit of spice. I thought the perfect way to fully experience the spirit would be to incorporate it into one of my favorite drinks, the Old Fashioned.
Applejack Old Fashioned
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 barspoon real maple syrup
Stir and serve in a rocks glass over ice. Garnish with orange peel.
There is something about the addition of the maple syrup here that brings out the frutiness in Applejack that was so subtle when sipped straight. My expectation was that the drink would be overly sweet, but instead it is the maple flavor rather than a cloying sweetness that is present on every sip. The citrus nose also blends nicely into the maple flavors. I experimented with the amount of syrup added and found that for my taste one generous barspoon was just about right, but you can add or subtract to achieve the perfect balance. Note that it is important to use real maple syrup, and I used Grade B here because I prefer the flavor to Grade A. Even my fiancee, who doesn’t like a traditional Old Fashioned, loved this drink, so its a great vehicle for introducing someone to Applejack. Enjoy!