Treatise on American Brandy

American Brandy is having a bit of a moment. 

Over the past few months, a number of publications focused on this spirit made from distilling hard apple cider. Sales volumes are growing, and the category shows promise as two related categories — hard apple cider and American whiskey — continue to mature. 

As the American consumer grows more comfortable with exploring the many flavor possibilities of fermented apple varieties — from tart and crisp to sweet and syrupy — it would be natural for those newly acquired preferences to transcend into the world of distilled spirits and cocktails. Just as the world of craft brewing benefited the fledgling craft whiskey movement, additional collaborations between cideries and distilleries seems inevitable. And, as craft whiskey fans continue to learn more about the distillation and maturation process, curiosity should continue to boost other aged spirits — as growth in other matured spirits like Añejo Tequila and Cognac attests. 

Time will tell what the future has in store, but Apple Brandy is a category that has a long and fascinating history. 

Perhaps the most well-known region of production is the Calvados region — part of the Normandy coast of France. Apple orchards were originally planted by invading British armies during the centuries’-long conflicts between the British and French monarchies. In fact, excellent cider production also takes place in the region to this day. The British love of cider naturally led to the distillation of the fermented juice into brandy using local Alembic stills also used for grape brandy production. 

[Click here to read more about modern Calvados production.

Colonial America also inherited a taste of apple cider from the British — along with influence from early German settlers. As Johnny Appleseed expanded wild apple stock across the continent, brandy production served as a way to preserve excess apples through the winter. In fact, the term ‘Applejack’ came from an early form of frontier distilling in which producers would ‘jack’ ice from frozen cider, and thereby increasing the alcohol content of the remaining liquid.   

[Click here to read more about early American Brandy’s history.

In addition to having a great backstory, well-produced aged Apple Brandy can be delightfully delicious. With all of the nuanced complexity of a well-matured whiskey, tart, sweet and bright flavors develop into rich mahogany fig flavors when exposed to oak. 

One of my favorite simple cocktails is a float of Calvados or well-matured Applejack onto a champagne flute filled with tart farm-style apple cider. 

I recently had a chance to delve into my nerdy fascination with the category during the production of Wigle’s Apple Brandy. Our Distillery team has the utmost respect for the Calvados region, which gave us the opportunity to try

to replicate their production methods as methodically as we could in the riverlands of Western Pennsylvania. Traditional techniques — including four-to-six-week natural fermentation that took advantage of natural yeasts floating about the distillery, the use of local apples and double copper-pot distillations — allowed us to create a high-quality product that should appeal to whiskey fans as well as Cognac enthusiasts. 

The release party held at the distillery was the perfect opportunity to bring up the finer points of our production method and educate customers about the finer-points of Calvados production. 

[Click here to learn more about Wigle Apple Brandy.]  

It was encouraging to see customers’ willingness to try something new. Once the production quality is explained and people are able to taste the spirit, it becomes easy for them to make the connection between other quality spirits like Cognac and Armagnac.  

While the verdict is out as to whether the American consumer can be brought around to accept high-quality Applejack, Calvados and Apple Brandy as a go-to beverage of choice, it certainly is an exciting time to be following the category. And if you’d like to try some high-quality Apple Brandies, keep an eye out for some of the brands listed below. 

[Click here to learn more about Craft American Brandies.

Article by akendeall

Aaron is a whiskey writer, brand ambassador and distiller based in Pittsburgh, Pa., who has been working in the spirits industry since 2013.