[Paleopsych] NYT: One Family's Story: Apples to Applejack

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Fri May 6 21:42:02 UTC 2005

One Family's Story: Apples to Applejack
New York Times, 5.5.4

[My 7-great grandfather, Samuel Forman (1662 or 1663-1740) was High Sherif of 
Monmouth Country when the first Lairds came over but it was only later that the 
Lairds got into the liquor business. Samuel was the 5-great grandfather of both 
my grandparents on the Forman side, thus making the fifth cousins. I'm now a 
little unclear on this, but a George Forman was an accountant and went into the 
liquor business with a Mr. Brown, forming the Brown-Forman Company, which is 
one of last independent distillers today, in the late 19th century. Previously, 
I had thought that Forman fled to Kentucky during the Whiskey Rebellion of 
1974, which took place in what is now Pittsburgh. He then met a Mr. Forman who 
said, "Forman, you make mighty good moonshine; let's go into business and make 
it legal." Though the date is wrong by a century, there was indeed a Kentucky 
Forman, namely George, and it is true that my father's mother's family did hail 
from Kentucky before they moved to Kansas. So my father's father may have 
garbled the report from his wife, or his wife did the garbling herself, or 
maybe it was me who added to the garbling. Anyhow, the article below is a good 


    LAIRD Emilie Dunn is only 7 years old, but one day history will catch
    up with her.

    Since 1698, some 12 generations of the Laird family have lived in or
    around this tiny Monmouth County village, making history and, yes,
    applejack. The family's business, Laird & Company, is the oldest
    commercial distillery in the United States and one of the country's
    oldest family businesses.

    The first Laird to come to these shores, William, was a Scotsman who,
    his family likes to think, made Scotch whiskey back in County Fyfe and
    switched to apple brandy when he reached Monmouth County. Almost a
    century later, in 1780, a grandson of William Laird, Robert Laird,
    started Laird & Company; the Lairds still have his account book from
    that year to prove it.

    Nine generations of Lairds have run the company since then. Laird
    Emilie, the daughter of Lisa Laird Dunn, of the ninth generation since
    the company was started, is the only one of the 10th generation
    bearing the Laird name who might conceivably go into the business.

    The story of applejack and the history of the Lairds are intertwined.
    George Washington, who owned large apple orchards, wrote to the Lairds
    around 1760 asking for their applejack recipe. In his diary he noted
    on Aug. 3, 1763, that he "began selling cider." During the
    Revolutionary War, Washington dined with Moses Laird, an uncle of
    Robert, on the eve of the Battle of Monmouth.

    Abraham Lincoln ran a tavern in Springfield, Ill., for a time; the
    Lairds have a copy of his bill of fare from 1833 offering applejack at
    12 cents a half pint. That's not cheap: dinner was 25 cents.

    Presumably Lincoln's applejack was the straight stuff. Today, the
    names for apple spirits are more specific. By law, applejack can refer
    only to a blend.

    "The trend has been to lighter drinks," Lisa Laird Dunn said. "Until
    the 1970's, our applejack was pure apple juice, fermented then
    distilled. Today, at 80 proof, it's a blend of about 35 percent apple
    brandy and 65 percent neutral grain spirits." Federal regulations also
    require that applejack be aged four years in used bourbon barrels.

    The unblended style has not been abandoned. There is Laird's 100 proof
    Straight Apple Brandy; Laird's 80-proof Old Apple Brandy, aged a
    minimum of seven and a half years, and the family's pride, Laird's
    88-proof 12-Year-Old Apple Brandy, aged in charred bourbon barrels.
    Like a 20-year-old Calvados from the Pays d'Auge in Normandy, Laird's
    12-year-old can take its place alongside most fine Cognacs.

    Seventeenth-century settlers in the Northeast turned to apples for
    their strong spirits because the weather and the soil were not
    hospitable to rye, barley and corn. Until whiskey began to flow
    through the Cumberland Gap in the 18th century, and rum, or molasses
    to make rum, arrived from the Caribbean as part of the slave trade,
    applejack was America's favorite spirit.

    By the 1670's, according to the Laird archives, almost every
    prosperous farm had an apple orchard whose yield went almost entirely
    into the making of cider. Hard cider - simple fermented apple juice -
    was the most abundant drink in the colonies. Much of it was made by
    leaving apple cider outside in winter until its water content froze
    and was discarded. About 20 years later, farmers began to distill the
    hard cider into 120-proof "cyder spirits," which soon became known as

    The first Laird distillery was a small affair behind the Colt's Neck
    Inn, a stagecoach stop between Freehold and Perth Amboy. While the inn
    is still there and still open, the distillery was moved to its current
    site, five miles away, after a fire in 1849.

    Originally the small plant was surrounded by apple orchards. Now most
    of the area is given over to horse farms and a slowly encroaching line
    of megamansions.

    "We haven't purchased an apple around here for years," Lisa Laird Dunn
    said. "All our apples come from the Shenandoah Valley, and they are
    processed in our distillery in North Garden, Va." Scobeyville is the
    site of the company's headquarters and its warehouses.

    The best apples for making applejack are small, late-ripening
    Winesaps, Larrie Laird said, "because they yield more alcohol."
    Sixteen pounds of apples produce about 25 ounces of applejack.

    Laird & Company is the nation's top producer of apple brandies and its
    only producer of applejack, but the company's production is relatively
    small, about 40,000 cases a year in all. To increase its sales, Laird
    imports wines and spirits from France, Italy and elsewhere and acts as
    a contract bottler for a variety of spirits produces. It buys spirits
    in bulk - bourbon, Scotch, tequila, Canadian whiskey, gin, vodka and
    others - and bottles them. Applejack and the apple brandies make up
    only about 5 percent of Laird's catalog.

    While Laird is the only producer of applejack, there are several other
    apple brandy makers, one of the most prominent the Clear Creek
    distillery in Portland, Ore. Clear Creek calls its version Eau de Vie
    de Pomme, makes it from Golden Delicious apples and ages it eight
    years in French oak barrels.

    Here in Scobeyville, a representative of the eighth generation,
    Larrie, 65, currently president and chief executive, will eventually
    give way to a representative of the ninth, his daughter, Lisa Laird
    Dunn, 43, vice president of sales and marketing, and her cousin, John
    E. Laird III, 57, executive vice president and chief financial
    officer. After that, it all depends on Laird Emilie. Of course, she
    has a few years to think about it.

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