For yesterday's Dining & Wine section of the New York Times, Frank J. Prial recounts the history of applejack in America.
The article focusses on the history of the Laird family business in New Jersey:
Nine generations of Lairds have run the company since then. Laird Emilie, the daughter of Lisa Laird Dunn, of the ninth generation since the company was started, is the only one of the 10th generation bearing the Laird name who might conceivably go into the business.
The story of applejack and the history of the Lairds are intertwined. 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.
Presumably Lincoln's applejack was the straight stuff. Today, the names for apple spirits are more specific. By law, applejack can refer only to a blend.
"The trend has been to lighter drinks," Lisa Laird Dunn said. "Until the 1970's, our applejack was pure apple juice, fermented then distilled. Today, at 80 proof, it's a blend of about 35 percent apple brandy and 65 percent neutral grain spirits." Federal regulations also require that applejack be aged four years in used bourbon barrels.
95% of the family business, today, consists of buying other liquors in bulk and bottling them.