Laird's Applejack 86 Proof

For all the apple brandy geeks out there, Laird’s has recently reintroduced a straight apple brandy bottled at 86 proof.

Previously, to my knowledge, the only widely-available product from them that was 100% apple brandy was their 100 proof Bottled-in-Bond variety (which I adore). Their regular, 80-proof applejack has been a blend of apple brandy and neutral spirits for at least the last few decades–someone correct me if I’m wrong on that!

I just recently got access to this at my shop in Minneapolis and really enjoyed it. I’m curious now (for those cocktail historians among us) whether or not this is a meaningful improvement on any historic drinks calling for applejack? Laird’s claims that their pre-Prohibition applejack was always bottled at 86-proof, although my assumption is always that 19th century spirits below 100-proof were a rarity. Maybe someone can give more information? Would this make a more historically-accurate Jersey Sunset, etc…?

Thanks in advance for all of your wise insights!

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I’ve seen ads for this, but haven’t gotten a the opportunity to sample it. @slkinsey, have you? I adore the Bonded product, and have no use for the entry level blended Laird’s Applejack.

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Can’t wait to try it out!

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Laird’s has also long had a 7.5 year old 40% abv. It’s been easy enough to order for around $45 but very few places keep it in stock. That tends to be true of the Bonded as well though. The one that is hard to get is the 12 year old because they didn’t make much of it back in the dark years for aged spirits. Im including a photo of the 7.5 along with their lineup as of last year.

Over the years, I’ve gone through several bottles of the 7 1/2 and the 12. They’re quite pleasant.

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In one of my first forays into a craft cocktail program, I was promoted before I knew what was what thanks to a few unexpected departures, and ended up helming a cocktail program I wasn’t at all qualified to run (at least to start. I am profoundly grateful for that experience–I learned through fire and flame, but man oh man did I learn), and we had an Laird’s cocktail on the menu. We ran out of the standard 80 proof, but had a case of the 12 year in the cage. I looked up our price per bottle, and it was entered as a 22 dollar bottle. There had been a mistake in entering the price (I think whoever added that to our cost spreadsheet accidentally put the cost of the Laird’s 80 proof 1L), and I didn’t know any better. So we poured an ounce and a half of Laird’s 12 year into a 10 dollar cocktail until we needed to reorder and I saw the actual price per bottle. It was not a fun conversation with my GM when I realized the mistake. But those were some delicious cocktails.

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Relatively extensive Applejack article in today’s NYTimes:

Nice to see applejack get some good press. A few things about the article:

  1. I wonder how common it ever was to make applejack as a spirit by fractional freezing. I have my doubts as to whether it’s possible to get ABVs up around 40% (never mind 50%) using fractional freezing at outdoor temperatures. The article suggests it was done through successive freeze-thaw cycles, but I’m not so sure that a typical winter has enough of those to get up to 40% ABV. It also has to get really cold for this to work well – somewhere in the range of -20F/-29C. I don’t see a lot of places in the US having enough 52F/30C swings in a season to get up to spirit proof. I hear the trope “applejack gets its name from the widespread practice of increasing alcoholic strength through freezing” as though it’s an accepted truth, but I wonder if anyone has done any actual research revealing that this is true. It’s also notable that fractional freezing only seems to be mentioned with respect to applejack, which strikes me as a bit suspect considering that surely colonists could and, I have to believe, would have done this with fermented grains, grapes, etc.

  2. The writer says, “…applejack (and its aged version, apple brandy)…” I understand there may be some standards of identification regulating what is called applejack and apple brandy, but as far as I know applejack is and was aged. Certainly it would have to have seen some barrel time to be palatable if fractional freezing process is actually used.

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It was always far easier and more efficient to distill it in the regular way, which is how it was mostly done in Colonial and nineteenth-century America. The earliest use for “applejack” I can recall off the top of my head is for the stuff distilled from the “cheese” left over from pressing cider (which was made into “cider brandy”). So an apple grappa or marc. I don’t think the freeze stuff was a commercial product, but rather a
nonce thing you would do when it was really cold and you really wanted something—anything—stronger than cider.
But my brain might be sparky on this; I’ll check the archives.

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Yeah, it’s interesting how it’s become received wisdom that it’s called “applejack” because it was originally produced by fractional freezing, aka “jacking.” Do you see any evidence whatsoever that this supposed etymology is correct?

To whatever extent fractional freezing was done, I have to believe it was more like making an Eisbier, which would maybe get the ABV up around the area of 15%. Getting the ABV meaningfully higher than that would require a lot of time and effort – a lot more than, yanno, just distilling it – and I have a hard time seeing that happen.

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