Good Spirits > A Toast to Apples

As fall settles around New Hampshire, cooler temperatures bring a snap to the air and a fiery orange glow to the leaves—causing many of us start planning winter strategies. As an active non-skier, my cold-weather priority is warmth and comfort—internal and external. My woodstove takes care of the latter. But for inner warmth, I love sitting by a window absorbed in a good book and sipping smooth brandy.

In this regard, New Englanders have a history of good choices. Apple brandy, also called applejack, and pear brandy are delicious tributes to the early American settlers. Traveling from England, France and other European nations, many settlers missed their favorite brandies. John Chapman (known as Johnny Appleseed) and other settlers began planting apple trees throughout the region, and soon apples grew to become a staple crop. Bartlett pears also became widespread and were distilled into brandy. Both England and France have long traditions of making apple brandy, especially in the Calvados district of France’s Normandy region, where people began distilling apples into Calvados in the 1500s.

America’s oldest applejack producer (established in 1780)—Laird & Co. in Scobeyville, New Jersey—was founded by William Laird, a native of Scotland. In addition to Laird, Clear Creek Distillery in Portland, Oregon, is making world class eaux de vies (aka brandy) from pears, apples and other fruits. Jean Danflou and Calvados Boulard are other quality producers.

While traditional brandy is distilled using copper pot stills, Colonial applejack enthusiasts first made it by storing hard apple cider outside to freeze during January and February. Because water freezes at a higher temperature than alcohol, the ice was discarded, leaving a pure, highly concentrated apple beverage. This freeze distillation process was called “jacking,” which is how applejack got its name. Today, applejack and apple brandy are synonymous, and freeze distillation is no longer used. Federal law requires apple brandy to be aged at least two years. Most are aged fifteen years or longer. The longer they’re aged, the smoother the brandies get, at least in theory.

Many traditionally themed restaurants and bars in the region pay homage to New England’s history and include apple brandies on the drink menus. Although great served neat, apple brandy also can contribute to a delicious cocktail. This fall, Wolfe’s Tavern at The Wolfeboro Inn in Wolfeboro is serving the Black and Fall, a complex and flavorful combination of apple brandy, cognac and Cointreau, with a touch of licorice.

“The Black and Fall is a great cocktail for our fall cuisine, especially the Bone-In Spiced Pork Chop with Butter- Sautéed Apples,” says Chris Lawton, director of sales and marketing at the inn, adding that such cocktails pair quite well with the inn’s fare.

Wolfe’s Tavern at the Wolfeboro Inn’s Black and White Cocktail

Serves 1

¾ ounce apple brandy
2-3 dashes Pernod licorice liquor
¾ ounce cognac
¼ ounce Cointreau liquor
Slice of apple, for garnish

1. Stir brandy and the Pernod.
2. Mix with cognac and Cointreau in a mixing glass filled with ice cubes. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a slice of apple.