You might be surprised to hear this, but applejack is the most historical of the American distilled spirits.

Its history is more storied than any other famous spirit. “It was America’s first and original native spirit, long before bourbon and even rye whiskeys,” says Lisa Laird Dunn, Laird’s vice president and world ambassador.

Cedar Ridge Applejack , bottle on white

Cedar Ridge Applejack

History

The earliest recorded applejack distiller dates back to 1696—that’s 80 years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and 93 years before the invention of bourbon. “It was a staple for colonists, with the majority producing their own,” Dunn says. If your property contained apple trees and a still house, your property value was elevated. Dunn’s ancestor, Alexander Laird, emigrated to what is today New Jersey from Scotland in 1698, along with his sons, Thomas and William. “William is believed to have been involved in scotch production in the old country and when he arrived here, he turned his attention to the most abundant local crop: apples,” Dunn says.

Lairds Applejack, bottle on white

Lairds Applejack

The Difference between Applejack and Apple Brandy

If you want to get technical, there really is no difference between the two. “Applejack and apple brandy are interchangeable terms,” Dunn says. In the legal sense, applejack and apple brandy must be produced from 100 percent apples to be so named. “There is a difference, however, between blended applejack and apple brandy/applejack,” Dunn explains. “As of 1972, blended applejack has its own Standard of Identity under the FAA Act, which is a blend of apple brandy and grain neutral spirits.”

Copper & Kings Applejack, bottle on white

Copper & Kings Applejack

Apple brandy is the rye whiskey to brandy’s bourbon. “It is the lesser-known sibling that is catching a lot of attention right now,” says Joe Heron, Copper & Kings founder. “It shares some of the spicy feistiness that rye exhibits without losing the elegance of a brandy finish. At its best, it is crisp, bold, and rich. At its worst, it is a sweet-doctored, faux-apple-smelling imitation.”

Koval Applejack, bottle on white

Koval Applejack

How is it Made?

Applejack is made by first pressing fresh apples to obtain the fresh apple cider. That cider is then pumped into fermentation tanks, where it is fermented into hard cider. It is then distilled to create applejack. “Our clear apple brandy is pumped into 55-gallon charred oak barrels, then placed in our aging warehouse to mature.”

Brands to Know

Laird’s AppleJack

St. George California Reserve Apple Brandy

KOVAL Apple Brandy

Cedar Ridge Apple Brandy

Copper & Kings American Apple Brandy

Barking Irons Applejack

Tamworth Distilling Old Hampshire Applejack