Ep. 80 - America's Oldest Distillery Company and the Revival of Apple Brandy // Lairds
LISA LAIRD-DUNN & GERARD DUNN // Laird's Distillery
Listen to the Episode
So what is the oldest distillery company in America? Well, its not a bourbon or rum distillery - no, it is a brandy distillery. And before you say "hey, its not whiskey, so I'm not interested" - you might be surprised at how much this ex-bourbon barrel aged spirit relates to great whiskeys.
Join me as I invite the 9th and 10th generation of Laird distillers on the show. We'll deep dive into the history of a brand that George Washington liked so much, he asked for the recipe.
In this episode we'll cover:
- The oldest distillery in the United States
- What the heck is applejack
- Freeze distillation and poison
- Making alcohol out of hard cider
- The Colts Neck Inn
- Supplying brandy with George Washington's troops
- Historic records, bottles, and jugs
- How a historic distillery dealt with prohibition
- Medicinal apple brandy?
- DSP NJ-1 and the first bonded warehouse
- The move to Virginia
- The modern perception of brandy
- Flavored brandy versus real brandy
- The current process of making brandy at Lairds
- The optimal time in a barrel
- Jersey Lightning
- The 10th generation distiller
- Transitioning from generation to generation
- Approaching bourbon and scotch drinkers with brandy
Listen to the full episode with the player above or find it on your favorite podcast app under "Whiskey Lore: The Interviews." The full transcript is available on the tab above.
For more information:
Welcome To Whiskey Lore, the interviews. I'm your host, Drew Hannush, the Amazon best selling author of Whiskey Lores Travel Guide to Experience in Kentucky Bourbon. And after a short hiatus, I am back and ready to dig into more whiskey history, or in this case, distilling history. As today's focus is going to be on the oldest distilling company in the United States, having received their very first license back in the 17 hundreds. The distillery is Laird. And my guests today are Lisa Laird Dunn, the company COO and Gerard Dunn, operations Manager at Lairds. Welcome guys to the show.
Thank you, Drew. Happy, happy to be here.
Thank you. Yeah, we're excited to be here today.
So you guys have been on my list to talk to for a long time, ever since I first heard about Apple Jack and Apple brandy, and the history behind your distillery. And it's like, if I'm gonna talk about distilleries in the United States, I should be looking for the ones that have the most significant in terms of historical timelines. And so since you stretch to the earliest date of a operating distillery, perfect to have you guys on. And also, it's a chance for me to learn a little bit about the history of Apple Jack and what that is. I don't know if a lot of people have heard of that before, except for maybe a breakfast cereal that they had as a kid. and then also talk about brandy, some of the differences and the unique distilling style, as well as doing a tasting of your 10th generation apple brandy, which is a bottled in bond. And so, we'll, we'll dig into that as well. So I guess the first place to start is to introduce this concept of applejack and, and what is applejack and what makes it different from apple brandy?
well, technically there really is no difference by federal standard of identity between apple jack and apple brandy. they are synonymous. If you look at the federal standard of identities, it'll say apple brandy, also known as apple jack which is produced from a hundred percent apples. historically the term apple brandy, apple jack cider spirits were all interchangeable as well. So there really is not, there really isn't a difference. There were two different processes or distilling methods in the colonial era. So that is where many people will say the difference between apple jack and apple brandy lies. but there were producers of applejack that were distilling in both methods in the colonial era.
This is fascinating for me because the original method is one that I never had even considered in my mind, would be a way that you could do fermentation. But go ahead and kind of describe that original method.
So the original method was by freeze distillation. So what a lot of the colonists did, they did not have stills. there were mostly farmers that were doing it on their farms. there were as early as, hmm, I guess the mid 16 hundreds, there were stills here in the new world. So people were using heat distillation as well. But the freeze distillation, they would, you know, chop up the apples. and there were two methods. They could leave all of the, the solids in together, or they could strain it off and they would put it in a barrel and they would let it ferment. And then during the winter, they would leave the fermented juice, which was hard cider and they would let it freeze. So as as, you know, water freezes before alcohol. So as the water would freeze, they would chip away the ice and they would remove the ice, and they would continue be a continuous process through the winter, and it would condense the alcohol and and condense the, the entire product, I guess that's in the barrel. So it would become just alcohol. but the, the problem with this method, it would leave you know, obviously you want to leave some of the con so because that's the flavor of a spirit mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but it would leave a little bit too much of the methanol and the esters, some that we do like to distill off. So it was a little bit of a harsher, I would probably say, a lot more harsher method to produce the product.
Okay. And that's interesting because when you think about the heat distillation process and the ability to say, Okay, we're gonna take out the hearts of this and we're going to discard or re distill the, the heads and the the tails. the first thing I'm thinking when you're chipping away ice is you're, you are really not, you can't stick a hydrometer into your block of ice even if they had them back at that time. So you're, you're, you're kind of in a spot where you're going to get some of that harsher alcohol in there. But this is one of the things that I have heard over time, and I'm not sure whether you know this or not, but you know, when you go on tours and they talk about distillation and how the moon shiners some of them maybe left the methanol in there when they were doing the, the distillation and it would kill people. I've also heard that the, the methanol and the ethanol actually offset each other. So it wouldn't necessarily kill you, but it wouldn't be great for your health to do that. But it sounds like in doing the freeze stride method, you're basically probably leaving most of that methanol in there. But it wasn't killing people <laugh>.
Absolutely. No. They had a term called apple palsy <laugh>, ah, if you drank too much of the the freeze distillation method, because it was also, you know, we're talking about the name Applejack freeze distillation was also called jacking. So hence you were taking the apple cider and you were jacking it. So that's predominantly how we feel the name Applejack came from. It's not written down anywhere in history, but we're pretty sure that's where the name originated from. but yes, there was a term called apple palsy. So if you drank, especially during you know, prohibition, which, you know, Apple jack was very it was very widely distilled during prohibition illegal. And you know, but if he drank too much of some of the jacked apple jack that had a little bit too much of the methanol in it there was a term you kind of like pass out. And we call it apple palsy.
<laugh> did not
Tell you that
<laugh>, luckily we don't have a lot of that going on these days. No,
No, we do not, Thankfully. Yeah. And our family has always used the heat distillation method.
So. Okay. That answers, we've always had. That answers my next question. Now let's, let's go back with your family and what is the earliest that you know of that your family was distilling? apple brandy and apple jet?
well, our ancestor which was back in 1678, they arrived here from Scotland and we're assuming that he was a scotch distiller. we're not sure if he brought a still with him, or obviously he knew how to build one. but it was 1698 where he settled where we were located today. it was Alexander and his son William, who came over. And it was William who came to this location. And he so we through family lore that he was distilling as early as 1698 in this location, cuz apples were very abundant. The English brought the first apple seeds over here in the early 1630s, and they flourished very well here because the, the only original native apple is the crab apple. Hmm. So all of the apples were imported from England.
Wow. Did not know that.
So they, Yes, yes. So the the apples flourished, and of course, you know, colonists, you know, throughout history anywhere in the world, they always found a way to make alcohol out of any type of raw material that they could find. So they started producing cider spirits here. So that is when we originally began our distilling, but we used 1780 as our official start date because we have account book of operations from our ancestor Robert Lair.
Wow. Okay. And that, and that goes all the way back to that date to 1780 that we
Had to 1780. Okay. Yeah. Okay.
Yes, yes. Yeah. 1698. You know, back then they were more like bartering you know, people pretty much bartered between you know, whatever you could produce. You were bartering to get other supplies and so forth.
So were they distilling apple brandy in England? This shows me how how little I know about brandy and its background.
Mm-hmm. <affirmative> our family, No, we came from Scotland, but in England, you know, they do produce apple brandy in England.
Okay. All right. Very good. Yes, I'm figuring the apples coming across. Plus they are you know, that much closer to France where they would've been distilling grapes down there. So so then all of a sudden I think of the traditional farmer distiller of early America where they were distilling their grain for the purpose of, as you say, bartering. basically it was their currency. It was a way that they could pay their rents and, and the rest. What was the original setup? Because you actually had an in attached to this, and it makes me wonder was the, in something that developed out of the fact that you, you had a successful farm and you were already making the brandy? Or was the, the, in what kind of pushed you into the idea of, well, if we have an inn, we have a tavern, we should have something for people to drink
<laugh>. Well, we were producing the, the apple jack before there was the inn. The inn wasn't built until 1717, the cols neck in. Okay. and it was it was a stagecoach stop. it was the Burlington path and it was from the Atlantic to the Delaware. So it went across the state of New Jersey into Pennsylvania. So it was great because people learned about the product and would take it with them as they traveled through. Cuz obviously we were serving it in the end. the distillery was located behind the Inn. but as you were saying, you know, before the inn, you know, there was the bartering, and even when we had the inn throughout the 16 hundreds into the, into the 17 hundreds, barter was very popular and even into the 18 hundreds. But Apple jack was used to pay road crews. it was also, I, there was a diary entry where I saw that a farmer had used a barrel of his apple jack to pay for his children's schooling. So I think the original apple that was given to teachers was not an actual apple. It was Apple Jack
<laugh>, <laugh>. Nice.
But yeah, the in it was actually, we were the proprietors. it was built by another family. We had the distillery there. it was the heart family. And when she became a widow we ran the, in for her for many years at that location.
Okay. Does, and, and there was a fire what, 1849, I believe is the date I saw on your website. So do you know where the Old Inn was? Is that still connected in terms of property to what you guys currently have?
The Inn is still open and operating. Oh, is it? we, Yes, yes. We are not connected to it in any way. the distillery did burn down and at that point the Inn and Distillery was being run by Samuel Lad, which was our great, great, great great grandfather. <laugh> three greats. Yeah. Samuel, I, I get lost with the great sometimes, but <laugh>, he was our three greats grandfather or mine, Gerard's fourth. Great. so we had the fire, and at that point, his son Robert, moved the distillery about a mile and a half down the road, right down Route 5 37 to where we're located today.
So the in stayed there. just the, unfortunately the distillery burned to the ground, which that happened a lot. <laugh>. Yeah. You know, we had fire, alcohol, it's gonna happen. but yes, that's when we, that's, you know, when our 340 year history, you know, we moved once, you know, <laugh>, this is our new location as of the 18, you know, mid 18 hundreds.
Nice. So you're in at Sco Scoville? Scoville Scoville, Yes.
Scoville, which is a little area of Colt's neck.
Okay. All right. I have
To, it was named after Captain Joshua Scoby, who was a pirate.
Okay. And you are right it's not far from New York. So you're closer to New York City than you are to Philadelphia?
Yes. Yeah. I guess it's, it's about an hour to New York City in like an hour and 15 to
Philadelphia. Ah, okay. Sandwich. I'm
Right in the middle. Yeah. Kind of right in the middle.
How far are you from Monmouth?
We, we are within Monmouth County. Yeah, we are in Monmouth
County. Are you okay. Okay. So there's an interesting tie in to to George Washington, which I've been over to the Washington Distillery. Of course, there was a, a battle that was really pretty much the last battle in the, the Northeast that occurred at Monmouth Courthouse, and that was in 1778. Now, it sounds like George Washington may have visited the in at some point, or somehow he learned of your apple jack. Do you, do you have much of a story behind that?
yeah, absolutely. Robert Laird, who was running the distillery during the revolution and prior was a Revolutionary war drag goon under the command of George Washington, along with his brother Richard. and actually the Cols Neck Inn was used as a meeting place for the planners of the revolution. and there was a very famous soldier that from this area, which was Captain Hudy, another Joshua, Captain Joshua Hudy was located he lived actually right next door to the Colts Neck Inn. So, as you know, George Washington obviously was in this area. We had the Battle of Monmouth, which was very, very famous, which, you know, it's been passed down that we had, did supply the troops ah, with Applejack while they were in the area. but George, George Washington did ask Robert how he produced his apple jack, because he did have an excess of apples down at Mount Vernon. And Robert obviously did share the the recipe with George Washington, and he began distilling cider spirits Wow. Down at Mount Vernon.
And another little interesting tidbit, you know, or antidote about the Revolutionary War and our little connection, especially with George Washington. Robert and Richard's uncle Moses Laird served as a guide to George Washington when he was in Monmouth County. So as George Washington traveled through the colonies during the Revolutionary War, obviously he did not know local terrain. So he would hire local people within the area to guide him to make sure there were, you know, not going into ambush areas, you know, you know, obviously little Mar ma outta marshland and so forth. And in this area, it was a Laird family member, Moses Laird and George Washington, and his officers did have a meal. They were hosted by the Laird family for supper one night.
It's, it's fascinating again, how, especially during the time of George Washington, where rations had to include some form of alcohol to keep the troops happy, <laugh> mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And, and so there was a, I mean, we talk in history about how once rum was really not available because of the, the British being in, you know, the ones controlling the areas where that molasses was coming from, this shift into whiskey at that particular point. But we seem to forget that also Brandy was a cider and brandy were very popular drinks back in that time period.
Absolutely. Brandy was very, very popular, especially the apple jack, apple brandy you know, there was other fruit brandies, but cider spirits was very predominant, especially in the Northeast.
So in that day, when they were doing distillation, was it basically just one pot still? They were running it through. We talked today about double distillation and the rest, and the Irish, now that I'm doing my research on them, you know, oh, triple distillation is the way we need to go. but how much do you know about how they were distilling at that time? And like when we think about the George Washington setup and how he has his five woodfire pot stills, there was what was the setup as far as you know, it from that time period?
As far as we know, it was a woodfire pot.
Still. Was it? Okay. Yeah.
Especially the old stills that we have. The old distill we have at this location was a Woodfired pot still as well. Okay. In the mid 18 hundreds.
Yeah. <laugh>, how many how many relics do you have around of those of those old days? I mean, again, I think of distillers in that day didn't really think so much about posterity, and that people would really even care what they were doing a hundred years from now. But here we are, <laugh> going, give us information, we wanna know what they were doing.
It's very unfortunate that a lot of that information was not saved. we do have the original still here from the mid 18 hundreds. That's as far back as we actually have the equipment. but yeah. And then, you know, we have the account book of operations from the late 17 hundreds from but, you know, at that point in time, he was just not a distiller. He was running the inn. He had, you know, there were had mercantile, so it had various different entries, but it, that's when we see the first entry for cider spirits.
Do you, was he buying in apples or did you guys have an orchard associated with the grounds?
We purchased, we purchased the apples. as far as I know, we never had an apple orchard ourself, but you know, back in the early 17 hundreds, late 17 hundreds, there could, we could've had some apple orchards. I'm not a hundred percent sure. You know, obviously there's a lot of open land here, and there's a lot of apple orchards where I'm located. So we could've at one point in time, but I have no record of
That. Okay. And in terms of bottling, about what time period do you think that bottling of the spirit started instead of just selling it by barrel?
Well, the oldest bottle that we have in our family's possession is from the mid 18 hundreds. And it's just a large amber, you can see it's crackle glass and had just had a wax top. so we know at least by the mid 18 hundreds when we were in this location, we were using glass bottles. may probably, it could be early 18 hundreds, but I'm not sure of the exact date, but I know we were using bottles by the mid 18
Hundreds. Okay. And probably ceramic jugs as well.
Yep. Lots of ceramic jugs, <laugh>, you know, and you know, back then the bottles, you know, they weren't a certain size, you know what I mean? They were just blowing the glass and whatever contents was there, that was it, you know. But yeah, the bottle, it's interesting to see how the bottle's changed. We have one bottle from the mid 18 hundreds, and then one from about 1890 where now then we had a cork closure versus the wax closure. and then, you know, moving on to metal screw caps and so forth as, as the technology progressed.
It's fascinating to know. And I've just started digging into the history of, of bottle making to kind of understand why was it that bottling really didn't occur until the bottled in bond act happened, and then all of a sudden distillers were seeing an advantage to doing it. And really there was no automated process. In fact, it wasn't until I think around 1910 or somewhere in that time period that we got to a point where now we have machinery that can produce bottles on mass, otherwise it was still, there had to be some hands on going on in the late 18 hundreds. And prior to that, you were making the bottle from, from scratch. I mean, it was really a laborious task. And so we didn't get to see labels and we don't get to see, you know, and there wasn't really a need to do the same kind of marketing that we do today with, you know, let's have a logo and let's have a, you know, it was what brand are you putting on a barrel, probably, which may just be your name rather than some kind of a, of a symbol.
Exactly. The oldest package that we have it just says Robert Lair Distilling Company, and Apple Brandy, you know, didn't have to have the contents. There was no logo <laugh>, you know, our logo didn't appear until post-prohibition.
Oh, really? Okay.
That's why we first have a logo, which we then changed. that's the logo that we, we have on our bottle and bond products. It's the apple with the Brandy sniffer. And then in, I guess it was 1951, where we started using the Eagle on some of our other products.
Okay. And let's talk about prohibition and how that affected the business, because well, first of all, I know that different states have gone into prohibition earlier than national prohibition. I don't know if if you went through that and you actually were in two, two states at that time. Were you not? Not yet
At this point. No. We were just in New Jersey. Just
In New Jersey. Okay. Yes. Okay. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So you went by New Jersey law. Be interesting to know mm-hmm. <affirmative>, do you, do you know if New Jersey waited and only went into prohibition with everybody else?
You know, that's a good question. I think we went with everybody else. You know, this really wasn't a temperance type state, so I, I don't think we closed early. Yeah. I'm pretty sure it was when they, we were forced to, you know, we actually have newspaper articles where, you know, say, you know, goodbye to Applejack <laugh>, and I'll have to look at the dates. But I'll have to look at the dates of some of those newspapers Yeah.
Articles that we have. Be interesting to know in the South that they, a lot of them went in early. I was surprised to see, you know, Tennessee talks about 1910 1909 and 1910, But then as I dug in, I found out that North Carolina was already in prohibition by that time, and Alabama was already in prohibition during that time. So I think it, it may have been more of the Baptist influence that
Absolutely, it was the Baptist, you know I'm, there may even be some dry counties in North Carolina still to this day. I mean, I know there were like 30 years ago when I was working the market, they were, there's still dry areas,
<laugh>. Yeah. We were just talking about Tennessee still has some that are dry mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Yep. Absolutely. Yeah. And Kentucky has a lot, actually. And again, it's because the, the Catholic areas fought not to go into prohibition, but there were many more Baptist areas that that, that pushed in, in that direction. So but you guys would have a major advantage. It's, it's like I think about prohibition and what the brewers did. Some of the brewers went in and shifted their business model to making, like, I remember STRs ice cream and that, that actually survived prohibition, and they made ice cream. They may still make st straws ice cream, I don't know. but they found other things to do to survive. And here you're working with a product that you're fermenting, but it's also a viable product if you don't ferment it. So, is there what happened with the company at that time? Did you shift to another product, or did you shut down?
Well, we were producing some non-alcoholic products for a while. we had apple cider, apple juice and it, you know, as I had mentioned before, during prohibition, apple jack was very popular bootleg product. I'm not sure who we were selling all that apple juice to, and apple cider, you know, <laugh>, we could have been just selling it to the bootleggers, cuz I'm not sure how much people were actually consuming not an alcoholic apple cider. but then you know, I, we did shut down for a short time. My my grandfather then introduced a apple soda called five Apple. Mm. made from the apple juice. and then he decided it was John Evans Laird, my, my grandfather Gerard's Grand great-grandfather. And he petitioned the federal government to produce for medicinal purposes, which there were a few whiskey producers that were producing for medicinal purposes. so we were granted the permit to produce 1 million gallons of apple Brandi a year. And as we know there was prescriptions for alcohol during prohibition.
Yeah. And, and this is one of those myths that's kind of built up over time, that there were only six medicinal licenses that were handed out. There were more it's just they don't really get publicized because it seems Kentucky tells our history. and so those distilleries being associated with Kentucky is why they get get mentioned. But there were many other, especially in the late 1920s when they were running outta medicinal spirits, they had to create more. So they had to look for a way, the government actually opened up and said, We have to find a way to be able to get more of these producers creating spirits for, for the market. So we, we had a very sick populous in the 1920s, apparently. Very, very
<laugh>. I love, like, one of the ailments where you could receive a prescription was depression.
Ah, so here have a wasn't
Yeah. He wasn't depressed during prohibition, Right?
<laugh>, Yeah, exactly. And, and, and what's funny about that is alcohol's not really a stimulant <laugh>. So, Yeah. Interesting, interesting times. so did those products survive? Did, did the, the soda survive?
No, no. we stopped all the non-alcoholic you know, we did later on we were producing some apple sauce and we had a cannery down the street that we, we had that facility as well. But no, we're, we're just doing alcohol now, <laugh>. Okay.
Alcohol and products.
So and, and, and what's funny I, there's a book called Last Call Daniel Oakland wrote about prohibition. And one of the funniest stories in there is the story of a man who had a vineyard out in California. And they would basically send out grape juice with instructions on how to, with warnings on please do not do these particular steps, or you will create wine, which is illegal <laugh>. Right. So he is basically kept himself in business, selling his product to, to everybody. and, and basically giving them the formula to make alcohol out of it with a warning that that's not what you're supposed to do. So you definitely had to get creative back in those, in those days.
Obviously, he was a very savvy businessman.
<laugh>. Yes, he was. Yes, he was. So you guys actually hold D S P N J one, in other words you are registered as the first distillery in New Jersey. So what is the what time period did you apply for that?
Well, that would've been post-prohibition. Okay. You know, when, you know, we had more regulations that we were under. We also have internal revenue bonded warehouse number one.
we, we are the first bonded warehouse in the country. Wow. and at that point we had federal distillery number one as well, that were on our labels. They were all included on our labels.
So I think it's around the 1860s that the bonding warehouses first were introdu. Is that about the time? Was that the time period? Yeah,
Probably at the eight. the bottle and bond Act was
1897. Yeah. I'm,
But there were, and
So many hates in my head.
<laugh>. Yeah. But there was a bonding but bonding was going on before that. It was just that it there were no real major advantages to it in the past. The, the real push for I think came with the 97 legislation, so Yeah. To
Ensure the quality of product.
People were doing a lot of nefarious things to their spirits, <laugh> and macing labels on
It. Yeah. Well, this is the thing too, that I don't think a lot of whiskey drinkers are aware of, is that, that law isn't just for whiskey, it's for No any aged spirits in the United States. Mm-hmm.
<affirmative>, Yes. Everybody thought it was just for whiskeys. But you know, we've had our bottle and bond products since prohibition obviously beforehand as well. but, you know, we have one product our original Bottled and Bond, which is very popular with the bartending community, that when we look through our old Colas certificate of label approvals, it's the same label back to 1941.
Wow. Okay. And you eventually ended up in Virginia as well. So kind of talk about the, what happened to create that move to Virginia? And I'm assuming you're now basically maintaining both states at this point. Mm-hmm.
<affirmative> well, we no longer still in New Jersey. there is no source of apples in New Jersey any longer. We're very developed. I actually live in an old apple orchard, the housing development that I live in. so in the mid seventies we stopped distilling in New Jersey. but as you know, post-prohibition, it was the heyday of Applejack, especially the thirties, forties, fifties and moving into the early sixties. And so Apples apple jack, and our apple brandy is produced from apples. You know, our federal standard of identity has to be a hundred percent apples. So we are kind of restricted to a certain time of year. Apples become ripe end of August into September throughout the fall season. So we could only produce from September. We would start crushing early September whenever we could start receiving apples. And we're usually done distilling barreling by the end of December.
Mm. So we are very limited on when we could produce and how much we could produce. So demand was very high. So we purchased two additional distilleries in 1941. one was up in Lions, New York, outside of Syracuse. that was the original Hil decks. Applejack, if it's an old label, not sure if you've ever come across that in you're looking through history and so forth. But that was a very historical product. And in the second distillery we purchased was in, well, is is in, we're still using, we're still still in this facility in North Garden, Virginia, outside of Charlottesville. And that was called the Virginia Fruit Distilling Company, and had a product that was called Captain Applejack, which we still offer in Virginia and North Carolina.
So it was due to the demand, you know, we needed to fulfill demand. So we purchased the two additional distilleries.
And what's interesting is two of America's most popular spirits during the revolution, all the way up through the 18 hundreds. And now as you point out into the early post-prohibition era would be rye whiskey and brandy rye whiskey almost disappeared completely. and it was really only saved by maybe saac hanging on, and it maybe a spirit here or there. But did Brandy go through the same kind of a downturn? And brandy is one of those things that maybe we can talk a little bit too about people's perception of, of brandy because I think a a lot of people see it as a French spirit as something that is for the upper class and nobody else really drinks it. Kind of talk about brandy's, how it has been perceived over the 20th century into now.
It's very sad. What has happened to the brandy category, especially here in America. Europe, they fully understand what brandy is. It's, it's the American culture. unfortunately we lost a lot of producers. number one, brandy is more expensive to produce mm-hmm. <affirmative> than whiskey. You know, grains are much cheaper than fruit. the quantity that, that we have to use to, just to give you an idea, it takes 7,000 pounds of apples to produce one barrel of apple jack. Mm. And that's 55 gallons of 53 gallons of liquid. and that's at 130 proof. So the raw material we have to use is enormous. it's about three times as much as grains. So number one, you had the expense factor and to produce it, so many people just stopped producing it. after, I guess it's after prohibition. You had a lot of great product that was out there.
And, and then as you were moving into the world wars during that time period, there were some people that were just not making good brandy. they were adding things to it. And there was just a lot of, I guess, quality issues. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you know, actually my family purchased a lot of about 150 other applejack either distilleries or labels to protect the integrity of the product. Mm. Because it was just getting such a bad reputation. and then, you know, the American consumers were moving away from heavy spirits, heavy brown spirits, you know, that's when we lost rye, mean they were lightning rye became blended whiskey. Yeah. you know, SCOs were lighted. Canadian was lighted. we actually had to petition for a new federal standard of identity of blended applejack in order to survive. Hmm. we have our lads blended apple jack, which is our most widely distributed product today, which is basically an apple whiskey, I call it, because it's apple brandy blended with neutral grain to lighten it.
if we did not receive that we probably would've been outta business a while ago. because by our federal standard of identity, as I said earlier, apple jack has to be made from a hundred percent apples. so, you know, we had less and less people were spirits, You know, there were tastes were moving towards lighter and then sweeter spirits. And we have this category that is called flavored brandy that has really grown in popularity, I guess, in the seventies and eighties. So the American consumer thinks flavored brandy is brandy and the flavored brandy. Like, you know, you have, when there's peach and apple and peppermint, every flavor under the sun you can think of, which doesn't have an ounce of brandy in it. It's basically a neutral grain spirit that's flavored and colored.
But it ca but it carries the name brandy.
It carries the name brandy, which irritates the heck outta me, <laugh> because it is not a brandy. And now American consumers, they see apple brandy, they think it's gonna be sweet, and it's going to taste like apples, that it's not this wonderful spirit that it is. And this is only in the United States that this is happening,
That it's fascinating
That we're trying to reeducate, which has been an uphill battle.
So how did they, how did they get away with that? If it's not, I mean, is it because of the loosening of the standard on the blended that it basically opened the door to adding flavors?
No, because we are the only, you can't add with the blended apple jack category. we're the only producers there is only, it can only be apple brandy. It has to be a minimum of 20% apple brandy and the balance neutral grain spirits, no flavors whatsoever. Our apple, our blended apple jack is 35% apple brandy, 65% neutral grain. So the flavors did not come in there. It came in along with the dss, the dis distilled spirit specialty. And eventually not sure where it came about. And who was the first to come up with this idea of let's do flavored brandies and be able haul these flavored products a brandy? Mm.
Is there any chance, just like bourbon did in 1964, that you can lobby Congress to come up with a standard for brandy that that deletes this ability to add flavorings to it?
Well, we do have our federal standard of identity for brandy and fruit brandies. we would have to petition to eliminate the flavored brandy category, which I am all for
Everybody wants to get on board with me. I'm happy to to lead the, the charge because it's irritates me. Because, you know, we have for over 300 years have distilled this wonderful spirit. And for people to not understand that and think of a brandy is sweet and tastes like a fruit. That's, that's, that's a cordial, Yeah. That's a liqueur. Yeah. That's not a
Brandy. It's kinda in that moonshine area. Or I still, I, you know, I've saw the other day, and I've, I've seen this around, you know, flavored whiskeys and it's I mean, I get it. There is a market for that. There's a big market for that. but for the person who is trying to find something that is that, that it, that comes from the distiller's craft rather than from a heavy handed approach of sticking a flavor in to manipulate the spirit mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it feels like for us, the consumers it makes it very confusing as to what is a, what is a legitimate spirit. I don't want to call those not legitimate, but in terms of that it came from the craft rather than from manipulation.
Exactly. But one difference between the flavored brandies and the flavored whiskey, the flavored whiskeys do have a whiskey base to it.
You know, these, these, you know, these flavored brandies that I'm talking about from the, you know, seventies and eighties that started, and there's many of 'em on the market today. There's not an ounce of brandy in them. Mm. So there is a difference there, there are some flavored brandies now, you know but that have brandy, it, it's just become very convoluted.
Yeah. Do you feel encouraged now by the fact that there are more distilleries starting to jump on board and, and discover brandy? I mean, I've talked to a few distillers who are diving into making brandies now. even though the process is a bit stickier and and, and difficult maybe for them to do versus their regular distillation of, of grains.
It is creating more awareness of brand's, which is wonderful. It's helping, it's definitely assisting to educate consumers around the country of what the spirit is. Yeah. so yes, its def it's, it's a plus for sure. You know, we're a small family business. We can't do it all on our own. So it, it's, it's wonderful to see all these different brandies that are actually made from the fruit. Yeah. And they're, it's a craft and it's, it's a positive.
Yeah. So so Gerard, let's jump in a little bit on the process side of things. And what is your try to give us a view into the distillery as it is now, and maybe walk us through the, the process a little bit of how you produce the, the brandies these days.
Lisa and Gerard (00:44:54):
So, being a small family business, everything is still mostly done through manual labor down at our distillery in North Garden, we purchase apples from a few local farms. We, we deal with two mainly. And then sometimes we, we reach out to a tertiary. But my grandpa still purchases apples from the same gentleman that he's been working for with over, over 30 years now. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and it's post-prohibition. We've been working. Nice. And he, he still goes down at the beginning of every season and negotiates a price per pound. And it's all, it's all a handshake deal very old school. So well, once we purchase apples from the farm, it gets delivered to our distillery. And it's all, it's crushed in a hopper and then pumped into these giant presses. And we have two gentlemen that, that work the presses at a time.
And that that fresh juice is squeezed out and then strained to get any solids out where the juice is then pumped into a fermentation tank from the fermentation tank. It takes anywhere from two to 10 days, all depending on the temperature outside. and we have a proprietary blend where we don't wanna say how, how we ferment, but anywhere from two to 10 days. mostly temperature dependent from the weather outside. And every day our master distiller checks the acids, the pH of our cider so that when it's ready to go and it reaches our qualifications and specs, we fire the still up. And it takes about 24 to 48 hours to to run a full fermentation tank of about 14,000 gallons. And, and that still runs continuously until that, that fermentation tank is run through. and if we have more than one tank ready, then we just roll over right into the second. So we're working those night shifts is a, it's a lot of fun mm-hmm. <affirmative>, especially when the weather's cold
Down there. Oh, I bet. Yeah.
But the stillhouse is nice and warm.
Stillhouse is <laugh>. People are lobbying near the stills. Yeah.
A lot of late nights in this, in that still house
<laugh>. So are you running it through a single distillation, double distillation?
Our still is a pot still combined with a, with a column still.
Yeah. So it's like a continuous distillation.
Okay. does it go to a do you have a thumper or a a doubler along with that? Or is, does it just end at the, at the hybrid still?
Yeah, we have a doubler.
You do have a doubler. Okay.
And, and you know, we, we continuously, as I said, it's like a continuous distillation and the heads, we put the heads and the tails back in and res distill. Okay.
Okay. So it's in a way you're distilling the way a lot of bourbon distillers are distilling their spirits. So let's talk about the particular well let's talk about barreling first, cuz I, that's also another interesting piece for me. And aging. And how long you like to age your spirits for. again, in the early days it was probably more about keeping it in a container of some form rather than necessarily trying to impart flavors out of the barrel. but in terms of, of what you're doing now and getting that influence of, of oak on the brandy, what would you say is a optimal time? Probably for a brandy to sit in a barrel
That's difficult. Yeah. it depends on what you're looking for. You know, if you, you want more of the bright fruit or do you want some more of the nuances of the wood, you know, with a spice and the vanilla and so forth. So it all, it depends on what you're, what you're looking for. we don't go any longer than 12 mm-hmm. <affirmative> because the distillate apple brandy is a very delicate product. the longer you age, you're using, losing the apple characteristics we feel it's very important to retain as much of those apple characteristics as possible because we're not producing a whiskey, we're producing an apple brandy. so, you know, we have found, we don't go over the age of 12. Okay. in order to find that that's the sweet spot. After that, it just starts to be become too much wood. And we also use used Cooper Bridge. We do not use any new barrels mm-hmm. <affirmative> because it's just too strong. you'll get a wonderful vanilla, you know, wonderful wood characteristics, but you're, you lose the apple. Totally. So
You're using ex bourbon barrels, kind of like scotch does. Yes. Okay.
<affirmative>. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Very interesting. Well, and it sounds very similar to peed whiskeys and rye whiskeys, where if you're in love with the character of the, what, the, what was being distilled, the longer it sits in that barrel, the less it's about that flavor and what you're looking for and much more about the barrel itself. Mm-hmm.
<affirmative>. Yeah. Absolutely. And every barrel's different. Every barrel's gonna impart, you know, a little bit different characteristics. but, you know, we love our apple desolate. we actually bottle, you know, people can call it moonshine. We call it Jersey Lightning. you know, we call it Jersey Lightning cuz it's like a moonshine. But you know, New Jersey was very well known for the best production of Applejack. so we offer that for sale as well are on each distillate, which, you know, that's how proud we are of it, because it's, it's a absolutely beautiful, beautiful product. And it shows you what we start with.
Yeah. So once you're in the barrel, I'm assuming you're probably bringing in some of those toffy notes and you know, maybe adding some, some wood spice to it, that, that sort of thing. A little nuttiness on top of the flavor that you get out of the brandy itself. But when you drink that dis distillate without the aging, do the apples just really stand out, kind of take to the forefront of the experience?
Yes. You get bright, fresh, cooked apples, but you also get a lot of the terroir. You're getting some stems like green stem, you're getting some vegetal. You're actually getting a little peach, peach and pair in there. which I think is, because the, the orchards where we are, there's also peaches grown mm-hmm. <affirmative>, so it could be coming from that, but it's you Yeah. It's definitely different experience. And it's very bright, very fresh, and it's very we, we offer it at 50% alcohol, so it's still quite strong, but it's very soft, almost like a mirany type finish. Mm.
I love that you keep your proofing elevated that way, because to me it, it gives you much more flavor impact when you do that. So how has the transition gone and how are you transitioning now into the 10th generation of distiller? What, what is your process? And it sounds like you have three generations still available at this point.
Lisa and Gerard (00:52:54):
Yes, we do.
Yeah. Yes. my grandfather, Lisa's father is still very heavily involved. Okay. mm-hmm. <affirmative>, he's here in, oh, probably probably like seven 30 to five every day. his favorite thing to do is drive the forklift and load the trucks. So he'll, he'll be here for the foreseeable future, no doubt. so we're, we're in an interesting transition period where we're still having Lisa try to take the reins from, from my grandfather. Mm-hmm. but I'm just doing my best to learn under, under both of them. yeah. It, it's, it's an, it's an interesting transition, but all, all three of us are heavily involved, but I say Lisa, my mother here is is is calling the main shots.
Yeah. Well, and I'm sure that there are plenty of opinions around when you have that generations.
Yeah. You see me rolling my eyes over here,
Speaker 4 (00:53:58):
Both ends, you know, the older generation, the younger generation, you know, it's quite interesting. But I do enjoy having Gerard here because now I have somebody in my corner for
Speaker 4 (00:54:10):
Something <laugh> David,
That someone backing me up on some things that I want to adjust. And, and you know, my father's very old school. He has been doing this, he's 82 years old. He has been doing this since he was a teenager. So it's in his blood, you know, and, and it, it's, he's very, very passionate. Yeah. which has definitely transitioned to me and, and now to Gerard. you know, it's, it's, it's, it's his soul. Like, it, it's ama like that's how much this means to him. And he can just whiff a, a glass of brandy and tell you the Esther acids, you know, Wow. Methanol, everything. so yeah. It's so, you know, you have to tread lightly
<laugh>. Well, well, I think about, I think back to when my dad taught me how to drive a stick shift car. And he had done it for so long that he couldn't put into words how to tell you how to do it. which led to me having to make mistakes and then kinda learn on my own. I imagine you kind of go through that same sort of thing that it's, it's in his head. He's been doing it so long. Sometimes it's hard to translate that to the next generation and say how to do it.
Exactly. Absolutely. Especially learning the distilling process. And you know, it, it's funny, I have a lot of people ask me all these chemical questions and he's like, I'm not a chemist, I'm just taste it. He, he just tasted like he does. He can't give you chemical compounds and so forth. He, you know, it. so it's, it's interesting how the old timers and how, you know, a lot of younger people are looking at distillation, you know, it's all touch, feel, taste. It's all your senses, you know, for all these years distilling. Yeah.
Fascinating. Well, you know, they say that family businesses, usually when they get to the third generation, that's, that's tough. You've gone 10, so you guys have learned how to do these transitions and and make it through. I'm sure it's it, it's, it's gotta be fun hearing some of the the insights from the, the past as well, and really feeling that history being channeled into you from the older generations as well. Yeah,
It, it is, it's fascinating. And, you know, I love to hear as many stories as possible, you know, and learn as much as I can. And, you know, just when we're in the old distillery and, you know, my father telling stories when he was down there distilling, and, you know, with all the development here in New Jersey, obviously the underwater rivers have changed. You know, little you, he'd be standing in water, <laugh>, <laugh>, you have to have the water source to run a still where we, where it's located. So, but, you know, just his stories and, and the nights there and, and it, it's, it's fascinating. But, you know, I love trying to absorb as much of that history Yeah. As possible, because people love to hear the personal stories, you mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you know, not just, you know, boom, boom, boom, this is how we make the product. It, it's, it's the lore, you know, whiskey lore. Exactly. You know, the name of your podcast. It's the history and the lore and the people. That's what really makes the story.
Yeah. It's what drew me into the whiskey industry and in, in the spirits industry in general, is that there you can look at the bottle on the shelf, but it doesn't tell you the whole story. And <laugh>, when I do distillery tours, I look forward to hearing somebody not just give me names and dates, but to, you know, bring in some of those quirky little stories that come along or, you know, things that happened over time or just understanding really how distilleries had to survive through all of the changes in American culture or overseas through the, the cultural changes there. and survive down times when people weren't interested in, in your spirit as much as they would've been interested in another type of spirit. And seeing those, those cycles and all of that. So it, it all comes back to really these distilleries and these spirits being, living, breathing things in terms of, they evolve just like we evolve over time. So, but we hold onto the history as well. And that's, that's the, that's the fun part.
Yeah. And that's one thing we have a lot of is history. <laugh>, you know, we act, we act just stopped distilling for a 10 year period because of the demand was so low, you know? Wow. And as you said earlier, Apple Jack zero, and when I was young and first started the industry, you know, Apple Jack, that's the cereal. You know, people had no clue what the product was. So yeah, now that there's, you know, a resurgence and, and a appreciation for brown spirits again, it's been quite refreshing.
So I actually met you guys in the odd of ways, because normally I tend to reach out to a, a distillery and say, Hey, I'd like to do an interview. And like I say, you guys have been on my mind for a long time. but it was actually Gerard was down here in South Carolina at a bourbon and bacon fest where I was pedaling scotch whiskey, which was an interesting experience. And then Gerard, you came over and introduced yourself, which I'm glad you did because I didn't, it was so busy in there. I didn't get a chance to even start to move around there. But you gave me a chance to sip on your 10th generation bottled in bond. And so kind of describe where the concept of this came from. is this something you've done for multiple generations, or is this kind of, Hey, we're now at at the magical 10 and let's jump in and, and do something special for that?
I think it was a combination of a lot of things. One of 'em being obviously me joining the family business. 10 is a nice, beautiful number. but our sales team has always wanted a nicer retail package that they could present to the end consumer. Lisa mentioned our bottled and bond product, our four year old being beloved by the bartenders. Part of that comes with them never, ever wanting us to touch that label. <laugh> with she said it's been around since 1941. There's a lot of history behind that label, and it has a cult following. So to kind of please our sales team and celebrate me joining the business, we released this five year old bottled and bond product called 10th Generation. And it's in a, a lot nicer of a, of a retail package than our other bottled and bond product. So it was kind of a combination of all of that really brought it to life. Lisa spearheaded it. I was not really consulted or involved in the design of the package whatsoever.
But that is one thing she does great of the many things she does great. and that the package did come out beautiful. So I have, I have no complaints whatsoever on, on how the product itself turned out and, and the package.
I was gonna say, it could kinda look like an ego trip kind of thing if you were too involved in celebrating yourself <laugh>.
<laugh>. So that
Graduated college and she's like, Here, what do you think of this? And I'm like, It
Looks good. Nice. Nice. How did you because I know my experience in terms of trying to sell bourbon drinkers on moving into scotch whiskey, especially a repeated scotch whiskey, what was your experience in terms of, how did you feel, feel you had to approach people who are bourbon drinkers when they walk by and go, Oh, brandy and you, you know? Yeah.
They, they definitely kind of did a double take. And I would, I would start off by saying, Well, if you, if you like bourbon, there's, there's a good chance you're gonna like this. And they were very, very hesitant. They wouldn't believe me. So it just kinda took a little con convincing all I wanted, all I had to do was at least convince them to at least try the product. Yeah. And nine times out of 10, their, their eyes would light up and they would, they would, they would be shocked and really surprise on how similar it is to, to a bourbon or a whiskey. Because going back to what Lisa was talking about before, it has that negative connotation of, of that flavored brandy's that, that everyone immediately thinks of.
Yeah. Yeah. And I honestly feel like in tasting it myself and, and dozing it, that it's kind of a marriage between, it's, it's a bridge actually between scotch, which you tend to the non-ed scotch is, especially from space side, Apple is a main characteristic that you find in that barley. You get a nice green apple kind of a flavor out of a lot of those space side whiskeys. So for me it's actually maybe even closer to the scotch fan than it would be to the bourbon fan. The barrel is definitely going to appeal to the, to the bourbon fan and that, that sweet character that comes in. but like I say, I think it really fits in either direction.
Kind of makes sense that William came from Scotland too.
<laugh> there. There you go. Absolutely.
So Oh wow. It's for the, for the whiskey drinker to stick your nose in a, in a glass and get that much apple. I, I love apples. you know, apple pie to me we had an apple tree in our backyard when I was growing up, so we made homemade apple sauce as well mm-hmm. <affirmative> and you know, so I'm just crazy for apples and to get them so much on the nose there, there is a, I almost call it like a smokiness that comes in on the nose there as well. And you said, which are, and your, you said your stills are, are fired stills?
Not any longer, No. They were years ago. <laugh>. Yeah, yeah, yeah. No open flame any longer. <laugh>.
Yeah. It's, there's almost, it's you, you have to, you get in a habit when you're a whiskey drinker, I think of having particular notes that you're always going to look for when you, you're drinking a bourbon. You know, you're gonna be looking for vanilla and maybe butter scotch or you know, finding that, that toffy note. Or if you're drinking a scotch, you're looking for that apple note you're looking for. If it's cherry influence, maybe the darker fruits. and so I think the challenge for the whiskey drinker is throwing some of that out and discovering some newent that you pick out of this because it's kind of, it's there's, there's a nice little bit of spice in there that comes in like a baking spice that comes in on the nose that isn't it doesn't connect with me the same way in terms of scent as that same spice in a bourbon wood. So it's, it takes a few minutes to kind of go, Oh yeah, that is what that is. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> kind of an
Express. I think also because it's not the new oak, you know, bourbon is aged in the new oak, so you're gonna get that stronger spice right off. Yeah. You know, when you immediately it's gonna hit you, you know, this is a little more subtle. Yeah. And it's funny how you mention butter scotch because one, you know, we can really tell that one our distillation is superb <laugh> is when we walk into the receiving room where the brandy is being dumped in from the the still and smells like butter, scotch.
Wow. Ah, the apple is it's all there. It is definitely the star of the show on this. Even five years in the barrel, some cinnamon. I get a nice little bit of heat on the back of the tongue, which is mm-hmm. <affirmative>, which is really nice as well. I guess more of a cinnamon, it's not like a fireball kind of cinnamon though. It's more of a mm-hmm. <affirmative> peppery cinnamon, I guess it would be the way to put it. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>.
Yeah, I, that's perfect way to describe
It. Very nice.
and, but the heat, you know, with that extra age from, if you've ever had our four year old bottle bond, it's definitely more heat, it's stronger. This, that extra age just smooths it out, helps dissipate that heat more quickly. So, you know, for a lot of people, you know, consumers that aren't used to a higher proof, this is definitely more protein for sure because it's, it's amazing how smooth, you know, we found, you know, just from that one additional year. but definitely the cinnamon, I get the spice. definitely some vanilla but it's almost like stewed cooked apples, you know, with all the, the spices that are involved in apple pie. Yeah.
And so what type of what type of apples do you use for this?
We use basically the apples that you would find in a grocery store. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, not all varieties. mostly we use, we use some reds and golds. Jonathan's Granny Smith or Staman, Staman Wap, Fuji Gala, little bit of Pink Lady. Okay.
And, and do you, It
Depends, you know,
I was gonna say, do you play the play with the balance and, and does would that open up? Like for instance, we talk in the whiskey industry now, corn and rye both have different varieties. So when you have a whiskey that is made out of a particular varietal of corn, you can sometimes get flavors out of it that you just really wouldn't expect. So do you sometimes play with the balance of this type of apple versus this type of apple in, in what you do?
we mostly, you know, because the apples ripen at different times of the season we, in order to, you know, keep consistency, we more like blend the barrels from different times of the season. Okay. Because the different apples definitely produce a different brandy. Yeah. the early brandy is not as high in sugar bricks and is just not as good as, you know, they're all good, but it's not at that same level as the late harvest apples. Yeah. And the, the later season brandy in November and December. So we usually use late harvest for our seven and a half and our 12 year old for our, you know, higher age spirits.
That are just,
And where are you guys available? Are you available nationwide?
Yes. Yeah, we we're nationwide. we export in about 18 markets. so yeah, we we're pretty, you know, it's pockets of distribution. You know, we're not gonna be in every retail store and every state. more in the metro areas and you know, more of the suburban depending on what market you're in. But we are available in all 50 states.
Okay. Excellent. And if people want to look up and learn more about you where can they do that?
Yes, we are on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Instagram and Facebook would, would definitely be best in terms of learning more information. We also do have a website, www.lairdandcompany.com. And we have a ton of info on there. We have a history page that provides not all of our history, but kind of like the, the main important components. And we also have pages for each individual apple brandy expression that we produce, and it goes into a little bit more depth on how it's produced and the tasting notes and so forth.
And you can find our distributors in each market on the web page. You know, we, we don't list retailers <laugh> Yeah. Number one. it's just too vast <laugh> we could be able be able to keep up with it. Yeah. That would be like a full-time job for about five peoples. But so but yeah, at least you can find our distributor or you can always reach out.
Right. To us. And the Instagram, what it's at Laird's Applejack? Yes. The, the, the socials are at Laird's applejack for both Facebook and Instagram.
Fantastic. Well, I appreciate you both coming on the show and talking about Applejack and Apple brandy and giving us an introduction as well as such a fascinating and rich history that hopefully people will now walk down the brandy aisle as well as the whiskey aisle to see what else is out there and and give your spirits a try. So again, thank you so much for for being on the show and sharing your story.
Well, I would like to thank you for assisting us in educating a little bit more about this wonderful historical spirit because it is an uphill battle, as I had mentioned before. And so I, we really appreciate that you wanted to speak with us and learn more about the process and the history and our products. And so cheers to you as well. And it, it's definitely been our pleasure to be on this show. Thank you, Drew. I'm very happy we ran into each other at that festival down in Greenville. It was a lot of fun. We, we love talking about our, our history and, and our products and with someone like you who genuinely appreciates mm-hmm. <affirmative> everything behind
It. Well, good luck with your, your learning and absorbing all of the bits of information from previous generations. And I, I wish you guys a lot of luck and I look forward to coming up to visit someday.
Oh, we would love to have you come visit. Thank you. Cheers. Cheers. Cheers.
And thanks again to Lisa and Gerard for being on the show. And I appreciate your patience as well as I took a couple of much needed weeks off to focus on finalizing my Irish whiskey travel guide. It is now with the format and should be available for this upcoming holiday season. And if you're interested in getting an early copy of the book, make sure to sign up for my newsletter by using the firstname.lastname@example.org. And while you're there, you can grab show notes for this episode, transcripts and more. Plus also find my Whiskey Lores Stories episodes about Irish whiskey, along with YouTube tastings and more. That's at whiskey-lore.com. I'm your host, Drew Anish. Thanks for listening. And until next time, cheers. And SL of a Whiskey lores, a production of Travel Fuels Life, llc.