Just what is AppleJack?
A Short History of AppleJack
George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Ben Franklin all enjoyed sipping fine applejack. Have you tasted some yet?
Distilling is an important part of American history, and applejack is as American as apple pie. Americans are rediscovering this forgotten beverage, which has delighted the senses of so many of our forefathers.
Why did Applejack disappear? Applejack, along with the farm-based production of other fruit brandies (pears, peaches, and of course grapes), largely disappeared with the end of prohibition and with the commercialization of distilling in America.
Through the 1700 and 1800's, applejack was a commonly-available distilled spirit. In some areas, it was the primary distilled spirits drink. In an agricultural society, where many citizens were farmers and many owned apple trees, both the process of making applejack and the tradition of drinking applejack were well established.
Applejack's early arrival is partly due to the fact the pioneer-farmers found fruit-based products easier to produce than grain-based product, such as whiskey. Also, distillations solved a critical need to provide storage of otherwise-perishable fruit crops. Although Applejack was replaced as America's primary distilled spirit by rum and later whiskey, it has remained an important product to farmers.
Applejack consumption futher declined in the years prior to prohibition. The Temperance Movement, which preceded Prohibition, enjoyed particular success in farm-based communities.
During the years of prohibition, 1920 to 1933, applejack production and consumption increased somewhat. This increase is due to the fact that applejack was easier to produce than other distilled spirits, which required familiarity with grain-malting and mashing, and also because it was a trusted beverage, providing the consumer some familiarity with how, where, and by whom it was produced.
The end of prohibition, oddly enough, marked a significant decline in the production of applejack. In the years following prohibition, large commercial distilleries firmly established their dominance in the market, and small distillers found it difficult to exist in the highly regulated climate. Commercial distillers found it far more profitable to produce distilled spirits from grain, which was less expensive and widely available.
Cornelius weygandt in "Down Jersey" observed that applejack had become so nearly extinct that many Jerseyites did not know what it was. He wrote that "although there was plenty of so-called applejack around, the old fashioned kind made entirely from apples was not plentiful at all." In 1968 the Federal Government created a new class of distilled spirits, called Blended-Applejack, to legalize the dilution of pure applejack with grain spirits.
In Europe, regulation of apple-brandy was going in a different direction. Many countries passed regulations on the production of apple-brandy, which both protected quality and traditional processes. France was one such country, and the long tradition and good marketing of Calvados is testament to their success.
In the latter half of 1900's, applejack production, particularly in the southern states and the hills of Georgia, continued with the moonshiners. Unfortunately, moonshiners were seldom concerned with quality and it was during these years that Applejack earned its bad reputation of being extremely "hot" and sometimes creating hangovers. These negative qualities, fortunately, are not at all present in a modern high-quality applejack. Specifically, the hangover-effect is the result of poor fermentation (acetobacter production of acetaldehydes and fusil oils) followed by a poor distillation (failure to separate heads and tails from the heart of the product). And the "hot" effect, which was so strong that it could strike shock into the most seasoned moonshine drinker, was the result of adding sugar prior to fermentation and secondly fermenting at uncontrolled temperatures.
Today Americans are very interested in authentic, hand crafted products. And fortunately the agencies which regulate the production of distilled spirits are accommodating the many small distilleries that are now experimenting with new and old distilled products.
Applejack, an almost-forgotten treasure, is certain to benefit from the renewed interest in authentic hand-made products.
We are pretty relaxed here at Tom’s Foolery. We try not to take ourselves too seriously. But when it comes to making applejack, we can get a bit fussy. We pay attention to the details … and we are happy with the result. Making a great product is part of what makes Tom’s Foolery fun for us.
Tom's Foolery Hand-crafted Applejack
Our Applejack is hand-made, meaning that we actually "make it by hand."
You can also call it "small batch". But that term is being used by some of the established bourbon makers. To the big guys, "small batch" means 19 barrels at a time, which is about 650 cases of bourbon. (It would take us four years to produce a small batch).
To us, small batch is about 150 gallons. Maybe it should be called a micro-batch.
Tom's Foolery is an artisan distillery. We produce small batches of apple brandy incorporating processes similar to those the Ohio pioneers used to make distilled spirits back as early as 1797.
Tom's Foolery is small. Really small. Most large distilleries spill more spirits in a day than we can make in a whole year. Starting with the finest ingredients, we use small batch fermentation and distillation so that we tend to the finest details. Here at Tom's Foolery, we like to think this helps us to produce the best apple brandy in the world.