There are few compounds that are more sinful than the applejack of New Jersey. The name has a homely, innocent appearance, but in reality applejack is a particularly powerful and evil spirit. The man who intoxicates himself on bad whisky is sometimes moved to kill his wife and set his house on fire, but the victim of applejack is capable of blowing up a whole town with dynamite and of reciting original poetry to every surviving inhabitant.
~ "A Wicked Beverage” New York Times, April 10, 1894
We like apple brandies around here. In fact, ten or twelve bottles from various American and French producers are in rotation now and won't last long. We'll put them in cocktails, in cider, punch, toddies, and straight up in glasses. In particular, we like the American style apple brandy known as applejack. It is at times — especially when new-born — as clear as water. That has its place, but when it's been put down on oak for several years, it transforms into a brown spirit that Americans have used as they might whiskey for hundreds of years.
While prowling through old papers recently, I came across strong praise for the stuff coming from — of all places — Salt Lake City. Seems a report of applejack getting into the lemonade at a church function in New Jersey made it all the way to Utah. The unnamed author writes: "Applejack never caused a lewd feeling to enter the heart of anyone. Applejack is not that sort of liquor. Good applejack carries with it the smell of the blossoms in the orchard. When one gets intoxicated on applejack he or she doesn’t want to kick at all; they want to lie down and sleep and dream of green fields and running brooks and little birds and wildflowers."
Perhaps a different sort of applejack was circulating in Salt Lake City in those days; I, for one, can testify that the stuff has spurred lewd feelings more than once. From the August 26th, 1905 issue of Truth, here's the rest:
From the editorial columns of the Ogden State Journal article for the following which was evidently pilfered by the excellent newspaper; but which is worth printing just the same. ”At a church festival recently held in the town of Annandale, N.J., one of the provisions for refreshing the inner man and in parking a cheery yet seemingly air of conviviality as an esteemed eastern exchange puts it, was a large jar or can of lemonade, of which the young men present partook freely. Thereby hangs the tale of religious Annandale’s present great disturbance and perplexity.
”Lemonade is one of the mildest of beverages and at that commonly encountered the church festivals and similar gatherings is, as a rule, rather milder than the average decoction. But this Annandale brew, for reasons yet undiscovered, reversed all rules and precedents. For proportionately with in the lowering of the bowl a strange air of liberty and abandon, noticeable in some of the young people early in the proceedings gradually developed into a mistakable symptoms of the finest joy and exhilaration, which reached a climax when a number of young women previously noted for prudent behavior, did a skirt dance with high kicking on the church lawn, to the Internet scandal of the deacons and the glee of ribald onlookers in the street, who applauded the dancers and incited them to wild feats of agility.
”Subsequent analysis of the lemonade disclosed the presence of a large infusion of applejack, one of the most powerful exhilarants known to science – as the Rev. Sam Small, who was once floored by it while on a temperance tour in Vermont, can testify. The great question now is, who doctored the lemonade and an investigating committee of elders is on a still hunt of discovery. It seems a little odd that the taste of the applejack was not detected before the stuff got in its deadly work on the congregation. This is not the least mysterious feature of the affair, and suggests that, in the absence of a positive clue, the old theological explanation of a trap set by the evil one might be resorted to. Satan was frequently caught at just such pranks in the good old times when there was a more vivid realization of his personality and in these days of doubt and rationalism, so-called.”
I rush to the defense of applejack. It wasn't applejack that was mixed with that lemonade; it was something else. Applejack never made a “prudent woman” behave like that. There is nothing in applejack to cause a demure young lady to wish to point one foot at high noon while the other stands at six o’clock. That lemonade was doctored with champagne. Applejack never caused a lewd feeling to enter the heart of anyone. Applejack is not that sort of liquor. Good applejack carries with it the smell of the blossoms in the orchard. When one gets intoxicated on applejack he or she doesn’t want to kick at all; they want to lie down and sleep and dream of green fields and running brooks and little birds and wildflowers. The whole atmosphere is perfumed with the scent of the honeysuckle and the Sweet Williams. The sky is blue, and minus a cloud. The hills take on a purple haze and the sun moves across the heavens surrounded by a halo of crimson and gold. The waters of the creek sing a love song and the chant of the feathered songster in the tree is an echo of the harmony from on high. The soul is at peace and never runs riot as did these previously well behaved females at the church fair. No sir, that lemonade was never doctored with applejack. It was mixed with the vintage of France, that puts fire in one’s veins and makes one think he is born to dance and raise the devil generally. Applejack is not guilty.
Goes well with:
- Applejacked Hessians and the Jack Rose, a tale of revolutionary-era mercenaries being overtaken by the hospitality of a host who provided them with the local spirit — with commentary from Will Elsbury, a military specialist librarian at the Library of Congress.
- American Apple Spirits, my overview of historic and current offerings of apple spirits — from brandy to absinthe — from American distillers.
- Speaking of lemonade: here's my recipe for our house lemonade (with a ginger-spiked variant). There's also pink lemonade (empinkened with bitters) and "circus" lemonade, the Honorable William T. (Cocktail) Boothby's 1908 jab at the charlatans offering nearly lemonless lemonade at circuses, fairs, and churches.