Apple brandy is as American as, well, apple pie and just about as old. Early settlers would drink apple cider harvested from the New England countryside. In winter, the barrels would freeze, with the water separating as ice leaving a concentrated, distilled spirit.
This process was known as “jacking” and created the spirit known as applejack, the predecessor of apple brandy. Nowadays, apple brandy is made through still distillation and in recent years has risen in popularity. We’ve rounded up six great ones you should try this holiday season.
Laird’s applejack was founded in the late 17th century and is arguably America’s oldest existing spirit. The essential U.S. apple brandy, Laird’s 100 is bold and fruit-forward, with notes of vanilla and toffee, not unlike an American whiskey. The proof means it’s a bit hot, and while it drinks fine on its own, it’s preferable to use it in cocktails. Try it in the place of any brandy drink, like a Vieux Carré, for a unique twist.
Bay Area distillery St. George was founded in 1982 by German immigrant Jörg Rupf. Since then, it has defined itself as one of the premiere American craft distilleries, with a focus on gin, vodka and fruit brandies. The California Reserve apple brandy is an elegant example, with apple clear and present on the nose, like a fresh harvest. The palate is vivid, bright and delicate for 86 proof. Drink it neat or as a highball with a squeeze of citrus zest.
Founded in 1985, Clear Creek Distillery was the first of its kind in Portland, Ore., with a focus on fruit brandies and liqueurs. Made from Golden Delicious apples from Yakima, Wash., the signature apple brandy is made in the calvados fashion, aged in cognac barrels (old and new) for at least eight years. It shows ripe apple and cinnamon on the nose and boasts a long, rich finish full of autumnal fruits—a beautiful sipper simply on its own or with a few dashes of bitters and sugar over ice.
Family owned Cedar Ridge is both a distillery and a winery, the only one like it in its state of Iowa. The apple brandy is a small-batch production, distilled twice and aged two years in American oak and French limousin oak. The scent is rich and smooth, with a bit of straw, similar to a single malt. The palate brings some sweetness, with assertive spice and a warmth, perfect for a Midwestern winter, with strong apple notes on the finish.
Barking Irons is a New York applejack, made entirely with apples sourced from upstate. A bold, ripe nose gives way to a warm palate full of spice and a touch of vanilla from the oak. The apple is definitely present but subtle, drinking almost more like a fine whiskey. This is definitely a brandy for bourbon lovers, with its light sweetness and generous spice. As such, it goes great in an Old Fashioned or as the base of a Sherry Cobbler.
A bold, rich brandy, Copper & Kings Floodwall American Craft is bottled at 100 proof after aging in a mix of bourbon and sherry barrels for a minimum of four years. It’s no surprise this apple brandy comes from Louisville, Ky.: It’s as assertive as any bonded bourbon, with notes of rich dried fruit and vanilla, and a bit of nuttiness from the sherry barrels. Try it as a Julep or over a large ice cube. Copper & Kings also bottles an unaged version of the brandy, a unique spirit that resembles an American White Dog whiskey.