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Apple brandy is as American as, well, apple pie and just about as old. Early settlers drank hard apple cider made with fruits harvested from the New England countryside. In winter, they let the barrels freeze, allowing the water to turn to ice and separate from the alcohol, leaving behind a concentrated, distilled spirit.
The process was known as “jacking” and created the spirit known as applejack, the predecessor of American apple brandy. Nowadays, apple brandy is made through still distillation and the best expressions use locally grown and heirloom apples. Try one of these six great bottles right now.
Barking Irons ($40)
An applejack made entirely with apples sourced from upstate New York, it has a ripe nose that gives way to a warm palate full of spice and a touch of vanilla from the oak. The apple is definitely present but subtle––it drinks almost like a fine whiskey. This is a brandy for bourbon lovers, with its light sweetness and generous spice. Try it in an Old Fashioned or Sherry Cobbler riff.
Cedar Ridge ($40)
This family-owned operation is both a distillery and a winery, the only one of its kind in Iowa. The apple brandy is made in small batches, distilled twice and aged two years in American and French Limousin oak. It smells rich and smooth, with a hint of straw, like a single malt. The palate brings sweetness, spice and warmth, with strong apple notes on the finish. Perfect for a Midwestern winter.
Clear Creek Reserve ($45)
Founded in 1985, the Portland, Oregon, distillery was a pioneer of fruit brandies and liqueurs. Made from Golden Delicious apples from Yakima, Washington, 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. Beautiful on its own or in an Old Fashioned.
Copper & Kings Floodwall ($41)
A bold, rich brandy, it’s bottled at 100 proof after aging in a mix of bourbon and sherry barrels for a minimum of four years. Fittingly, it comes from Louisville, Kentucky. Floodwall is as intense as any bonded bourbon, with notes of dried fruit and vanilla, and a bit of nuttiness from the sherry barrels. Try it in a Julep variation or over a large ice cube. Copper & Kings also bottles an unaged version of the brandy, a spirit similar to a White Dog whiskey.
Laird’s Straight ($35)
Laird’s applejack was founded in the late 17th century and is arguably America’s oldest existing spirit. The quintessential U.S. apple brandy, Laird’s Straight is bold and fruit-forward, with notes of vanilla and toffee, not unlike an American whiskey. At 100 proof, it’s a bit hot––it drinks fine on its own, but it’s best to use it in cocktails. Try it in any brandy drink, such as a Vieux Carré.
St. George California Reserve ($60)
The Bay Area distillery was founded in 1982 by German immigrant Jörg Rupf. Since then, it has defined itself as one of the country’s premier 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 in a highball with a squeeze of citrus zest.