The Showcase Magazine - Articles


A Jersey Libation Found Favor With George Washington

By Walker Joyce

Popular cable host Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” fame, hosted a documentary a while ago entitled “How Booze Built America.” It was tongue-in cheek, but as it was based on facts from our early history it was also real scholarship.

There’s no question that alcoholic beverages cannot be separated from our national story, from the Founding to the present day. To illustrate the point, one need not look back further than the disastrous attempt at Prohibition in the 1920s, and how it gave birth to Organized Crime.

Indeed, the Pilgrims recorded a dire shortage in their beer supply as one main reason why the Mayflower docked in Plymouth. Drinking water was dangerous in the 17th century, and so it was understandable why those not-so-prim settlers stopped for a kegger!

The thirteen original states, uh Colonies, had agriculture-based economies, and in order to use all the grains they grew they became expert brewers and distillers. Sometimes, Moonshine and other homemade whiskeys actually substituted for currency, and when our fledgling federal government tried to tax those stills, a second revolt called the Whiskey Rebellion broke out.

As the country grew, states and regions became synonymous with certain potent potables: Kentucky gave birth to America’s world class

tipple Bourbon, Milwaukee and St. Louis became famous for Beer, and California makes exquisite Wines in its Napa Valley.

So, what can the Garden State brag about? A singular booze made from apples.


First produced (ever / anywhere) in Monmouth County in 1698, it was created by a Scottish settler named William Laird. Initially named Jersey Lightning, it didn’t take long before it was a stable in Jersey taverns.

William’s great grandson Robert was a soldier in the Continental Army, and he was surely the one to introduce it to George Washington. As a general, the Father of Our Country was well aware of how necessary liquor was to the troops, for the sake of medicinal use, and to raise morale and foster discipline.

George spent more time here than in any other state, so I’m sure he drank his share of ‘Jack. Upon sampling the sauce himself, he immediately requested and received the Laird’s family recipe.

Indeed, Applejack might be called the Hootch of Presidents: after Washington set the precedent, Lincoln stocked and served it during his time as a bartender in Springfield, Illinois, FDR routinely used it to make his favorite cocktail, the Manhattan, and LBJ gifted a case of it to Soviet premiere Alexei Kosygin during the famous Summit meeting in Glassboro.

The Lairds began making and selling the beverage in Scobeyville, a hamlet in Colt’s Neck, and it became the first licensed, i.e., official distillery in the country. The family remains the premiere producer of Applejack, though they’ve moved their operation to Virginia, near the

Shenandoah Valley and its abundant crop of apples. The ninth generation, headed by Larrie Laird, is now running operations.

We just finished the annual delivery of pumpkin ales, a rediscovered style that has exploded in popularity in recent times. Happily, applejack is making a comeback too!

In addition to their flagship brand, the Lairds now make other products, including a fine apple brandy and some other aperitifs and cordials.

Meanwhile, the original “Jack” is still fine straight up, on the rocks, or as the basis of a mixed drink. Add it to your holiday party plans.