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Last week when I posted an apocryphal tale about a Revolutionary-era Hessians getting done in by an overindulgence in applejack (New Jersey's famed moonshine apple brandy), I asked if anyone knew more or if this was just a local legend.
Leave it to Will Elsbury, Pre-Twenieth Century Military History Specialist at the Library of Congress, to take the bait. Will, a self-proclaimed military history geek, did some digging and found a story about the Bruen family close enough to what I had heard that it may be the source of the tale.
He writes in part and quoting from a 1916 history:
Equally interesting is a Bruen tradition concerning a party of Hessians that during the Revolutionary War, on a bitter winter day, stopped their horses in front of the Bruen house and rapped with their whipstocks on the front door. The head of the house, like many a good Patriot neighbor in Newark, with real diplomacy withheld all indication of "what side he was on."
"Welcome, gentleman, welcome!" he may have said, as cold gusts swept his hall; for he certainly invited his visitors in, according to Bruen traditions. The winter wind chilled him, and he thought of a little, hungry company of half-clothed Patriots not far away. It was through his foresight, keen appreciation of the situation, and expediency of action that this forlorn band of his countrymen was saved. "A bitter day it is abroad, but 'rest you merry.'" he probably remarked still more jovially, as the Hessians stamped in with such puffing and clanging of weapons. "I have that in my cellar which will warm you and send you on your way again -- new men and better able to withstand the elements.'"
Excellent applejack was stored in the Bruen cellar, and servants were summoned to tap a good keg, which they brought to their master. Generously he dispensed the amber beverage to his guests, careful all the while not to serve himself. Again and again he urged that glasses be drained. The soldiers lingered until, warm and drowsy, they went out into the cold of the winter day. Some of them sluggishly mounted, while others cut across the meadow behind the house in which they had quaffed the excellent applejack. Almost to a man, tradition says, they went to sleep on the meadow, and nearly all perished from the cold. The few who survived were captured by American troops."
Lots of maybes, mights, and could bes in there, but I'm beginning to warm up to the story. It's printed in a history of Newark, New Jersey called Historic Newark; a collection of the facts & traditions about the most interesting sites, streets and buildings of the city; illustrated by reproductions of rare prints & old photographs. (Newark, N.J., 1916, printed for the Fidelity trust company). It's no secret to historians of Mid-Atlantic potables that George Washington, the famous American distiller/president, requested information about the production of apple spirits from the Laird family still known the the quality of their applejack before 1760, so we know that applejack was flowing readily in those parts at the right time.
As Elsbury writes, though, there is no attribution, so it's still unclear whether this is a family legend of a historical incident or actual events. The New Jersey Historical Society, however, does hold Bruen family record books. Those of Caleb Wheeler Bruen (1768-1846) include transactions for the sale of rum, cider, apples, and "spirits." It's not unreasonable to assume that his father (also Caleb Bruen) might have been the patriot in question since distilling seems so strongly to run in families.
Next time I get to Jersey, I'll have to do some more poking around on the subject. In the meanwhile, I might just have to pour myself a Jack Rose cocktail and mull it all over. Check out Anistatia Miller and Jared Brown's take on the classic applejack cocktail. And then try my version:
The Jack Rose Cocktail
1.5 oz Laird's bonded applejack
1 oz fresh lemon juice
a heavy dash of grenadine (made from actual pomegranate juice)*
Mix all together in a cocktail shaker filled with ice, then strain into a rocks glass (or a cocktail/martini glass if you crave fanciness). Some garnish this with lemon slices. I don't see any reason to garnish it with anything other than a pair of lips.
There is another school of drinks scholars that holds lime juice as the proper citrus for this drink. They are mistaken.
*See Scoffin' the Law for simple-ass directions on making your own grenadine.