Historically applejack was a Colonial-era winter spirit made by freeze distilling: leaving hard cider outside and removing the ice to concentrate the alcohol in a process called jacking. It was a product of convenience, an alternative for settlers in the northeast who had a hard time growing grain for whiskey. In the early 21st century, Derek Grout of Harvest Spirits Farm Distillery in New York's Hudson River Valley began making a modern variation as a way to use the apples that weren't perfect enough to sell. "We didn't set out to make applejack, but rather vodka," he says. "When we decided to rest the vodka in ex-bourbon barrels, it opened up the possibility for applejack, something completely different from what other distillers were making at the time," he says. The next step: "Why not help create the newest old craft spirit?"
Along with the distillery, the orchard has an attendant road stand that sells pies, sweet cider, apple-cider vinegar, and up to 24,000 apple-cider doughnuts a day. Grout's farm was also one of the first agricultural wholesalers to sell apples to Cuba when Clinton relaxed the trade embargo in 1999.
Apples are nature's ideal fruit for long-term storage of sugar. "We store ours in a nitrogen-rich controlled environment, which basically puts them to sleep, slowing down ripening," Grout says. "A year later, they are as crisp as the day they went in. You can't do that with other fruit." It takes 52 pounds of apples to make the four gallons of sweet cider required to produce one 750-ml bottle of three-year-aged Cornelius Applejack, one of a few preservation techniques in which the fruit becomes more valuable over time.
How To Make Applejack
Step 1: Washed apples are ground into a rough puree called slurry, which is stacked between layers of cloth and slowly squeezed together by 2,300 pounds of hydraulic pressure to create sweet cider. The cider is filtered and refrigerated. Bacteria are killed through ultraviolet light instead of heat pasteurization, which can change the taste.
Step 2: The sweet cider is transferred to stainless-steel tanks and fermented with champagne yeast, chosen for its efficiency in a wide range of temperatures—and the fact that it adds banana and crème brûlée aromas.
Step 3: The hard cider, about 6 percent alcohol, is pumped into a 100-gallon copper pot for the first of two distillations. The first, called stripping, slowly pulls the alcohol out of the cider, creating a raw material that is about 30 percent alcohol. The second distillation separates the compounds by boiling points, and only the hearts (the ethanol or drinking alcohol) make it into the final spirit, which at this point is about 80 percent alcohol.
Step 4: Filtered groundwater is added to bring the applejack down to 60 percent alcohol before it is aged for three years in used 50-gallon bourbon barrels. The slow oak extraction works well with the apple base to produce flavors of toasted coconut, caramel, and vanilla.
Step 5: Coming out of the barrel, the applejack is transferred to stainless-steel tanks, diluted with filtered water to 40 percent alcohol, filtered again through thick pads until it is free of particles, and then bottled by hand.
This story appears in the November 2016 issue of Seniorhelpline.