Applejack is an apple brandy made by distilling hard apple cider, which was first made in the U.S. during Colonial times. Applejack may have evolved from Calvados, the apple brandy made in the Normandy region of France. Applejack was initially made using freeze distillation, which was called "jacking." In freeze distillation, the water in the fermented apple juice is frozen, leaving the alcohol in a liquid form which is concentrated and still has some residual apple flavor. Using this method of freeze distillation, the hard apple cider is concentrated from a strength of 10-12% alcohol to a strength of about 30% alcohol. Today, blended Applejack, which is a combination of apple brandy and neutral spirits, is commercially available.
The one producer of commercially available blended Applejack is the Laird company, which has remained in the hands of the Laird family for ten generations. The Laird Applejack was famous in its early days; George Washington once wrote to the Lairds to request the Applejack recipe. William Laird began the Laird tradition of making Applejack in 1698 in New Jersey. By the 1830's, over 400 distilleries were making Applejack, which was also known by the nickname "Jersey Lightning.
Since the 1950's, the Laird company has been the only producer of commercially available blended Applejack, which are required by federal regulations to be aged for four years in oak barrels. Blended Applejack became a new class of distilled spirits in 1968, when the federal government legalized the mixing of pure Applejack with neutral grain spirits.
Today the Laird family Applejack is made from apples grown in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, and is a mix of apple brandy, apple wine and neutral distilled spirits. It is used in a few cocktails, most commonly the Jack Rose in which it is mixed with grenadine and lime or lemon juice. The brandy for the Applejack is aged for 4-8 years in charred oak barrels, which enhances the apple flavoring of the resulting beverage. Other variations on Applejack made by Laird & Company include Captain Applejack Blend 80 Proof, Captain Apple Brandy Straight 80 Proof, and Laird's Bond 100 Proof, a straight apple brandy.