Nov 22, 2020

Historic Havens of Monmouth County: Laird’s Applejack Brandy

By Lori Draz

New Jersey has never been short of one-of-a-kind originals, and one of the most historic and well-crafted ones come to us in bottles from a corner in the Scobeyville section of Colts Neck Township. There you will find the home of Laird’s Applejack Brandy.

The Laird family now boasts that eighth, ninth and 10th generation members of the Laird family are currently working there.

Historic Havens was treated to a peek into this enduring family business, courtesy of Lisa Laird Dunn. Her working knowledge of her family is undeniable, but she said, “We keep finding out more about them every day.”

Using the earliest records available, the Laird family marks the official opening date of the distillery as 1780, even though the family had been producing spirits there from 1698. The Laird family’s roots go back to Scotland where they were scotch distillers.

Lisa shares that her great, great, great, great grandfather, Robert, and his brother, Richard, were Revolutionary War dragoons who served under General George Washington and that their uncle, Moses, was Washington’s local guide. Washington and his staff were even hosted in the Laird family home, and the spirits were enjoyed by the troops.

Inside the barrel warehouse

Lisa, Larrie and Gerard Laird

James and Robert at the distillery

At that time, the Laird family had settled in the area where the Colts Neck Inn is located. In fact, Robert Laird actually operated the Colts Neck Inn for Catherine Hart, the widow of Levi Hart. Catherine went on to marry and become the widow of Joshua Huddy, who had been accused of trying to steal the inn from Catherine and her children.

Robert’s son, Samuel Laird, took over the inn in 1812.  Samuel was also a famous horse trainer, credited for having trained the acclaimed Fashion, and his son, Joseph Tilton Laird, was Fashion’s jockey. Fashion set the world record when she won the great North-South race in 1842. In her post-racing career, Fashion became a breed horse and her bloodlines included the astounding Secretariat and Triple Crown winner American Pharaoh.

Following a fire in 1850, Samuel’s son and Joseph’s brother, Robert Laird, moved the distillery to its current location, and it operated there until the mid-1970s.

It takes 7,000 pounds of apples to make a 53-gallon barrel of brandy. Each is aged a minimum of three years. That’s a lot of apples, so today the fruit is distilled in Virginia, and the raw product is shipped home to Scobeyville for aging, bottling and distribution.

The current property includes the Historical House, which serves as the headquarters of the company. The original part of the home is from the 1700s, and there is also a nearby barn from that era. Down the driveway is the 155,000-square-foot bottling and distribution warehouse.

Behind that is the aging warehouse which dates back to the prohibition days. The family also just refurbished the old still house which dates back to the mid-1800s. Stillhouses need to be by a source of running water, and the walls were eroded, which required significant repairs. The Laird family made those upgrades because they are planning on opening a visitor center and offer tours in the near future.

During World War I, they produced apple cider vinegar which was used as a preservative. In World War II, the company manufactured pectin by dehydrating the apple pumice. That pectin became an essential preservative for the war food rations that were sent to soldiers around the world. Today, the company has also been manufacturing a high-quality hand sanitizer, which is available for sale on their website and at their headquarters.

Many U.S. presidents have had apple jack brandy drinks crafted for them.

Laird’s currently offers eight expressions of their signature brandy. If you would like to sample what is closest to what was enjoyed during the Revolutionary times, try the Jersey Lighting which is an unaged apple brandy and, therefore, a white spirit. You can also try the Bottle and Bond which is a high-proof straight apple brandy that has been aged for four years.

The most widely distributed expression is Laird’s Blended Apple Jack, which you find in many restaurants. There are two newer varieties. The 10th Generation Apple Brandy, which honors the 10 generations of the Laird family, is a Bottled and Bond product, aged for five years. The other is their Single Cask. You can buy this smooth brandy in spirit shops everywhere, and whiskey clubs and aficionados can actually buy an entire barrel, which they will bottle for you.

Lisa says, “It is exciting to be a part of a historic product, which has a strong presence in the contemporary cocktail world. As high-quality cocktail popularity has grown over the years, mixologists have leaned on time-tested recipes and used applejack in many of the classics.”

Laird’s has a big sample of cocktail recipes on its webpage, so check them out at LairdAndCompany.com and be sure to try some of Lisa’s favorites. “I love the Star cocktail which is a Manhattan recipe, and the elegant and lovely pink lady, but I really love them all. It just depends on my mood!” With Thanksgiving and Christmas around the corner, be sure to try the generations-old Laird family eggnog recipe too!

You can also share recipes, historic data, cocktails tips and more on Laird’s Applejack’s Facebook page.