How to make Applejack (freeze distillation)

Applejack is a liquor that is freeze distilled, as opposed to steam distillation. In my opinion, Applejack is one of the most under rated spirits in the world, which is sad since it has had such a long and storied history. George Washing who owned one of the largest distilleries in America made Applejack. As with whiskey, Applejack was used as currency during America’s colonial period.  Applejack gets its name from the process and ingredients that are used in its production. The word “jack” derives from the process of freeze distillation, which has historically been called “jacking.” Applejack was/is commonly distilled from apple cider.

Freeze distillation: As you probably well know, alcohol freezes at a lower temperature than water. Historically Applejacks could only be made during the winter (for obvious reasons). During the colonial period producers would leave Apple cider out in the cold. Every morning they would go out and wipe off all the ice that had accumulated. The colder the apple cider got, the more it would freeze. The more ice they took out, the higher the alcohol content. Due to our modern technological advancements in freezing, you can produce Applejacks all year round without a still. All you need is access to a large freezer.

Steam distillation: Many modern distilleries use stills and the process of steam distillation to produce Applejacks. As opposed to freeze distillation, steam distillation is done by heating apple cider. Alcohol evaporates at a lower temperature than water. As such, the alcohol evaporates first. With the use of a still, one is able to condense and the vaporized alcohol back into its liquid form.

Applejacks is a truly great liquor that can easily be produced at home. I personally believe that Applejacks is perhaps the most under rated spirit being produced in America today.

As previously stated, Applejacks can be made either by steam or freeze distillation. For the purposes of this article, I will be discussing the process of freeze distillation. If you are interested in steam distillation, please check out the article on “how to make moonshine.” It’s the same process as making moonshine, except that you use apple juice instead of grain.

In order to make Applejacks, you will first need to make apple cider. If you are really ambitious, you can press your own apples.

Apple cider 5 gallon recipe:

gallons of apple juice/concentrate (5 gallons = 18.9 litters)
Yeast nutrients (you can pick it up at your local home brew shop)
2 pounds of sugar (depends on how much sugar is in your apple concentrate)
1 packet of yeast ( you can get wine yeast either at a home brew shop or online)

What you need:  (click here to buy home brew kit)

Alcohol hydrometer (it is best if you have both a beer and liquor hydrometer)
Carboy
air lock
5 gallon bucket or kettle (really anything that has a wide top and is food grade plastic)
Large freezer if you are doing freeze distillation
Still (only if you are doing steam distillation)

Step by step directions on how to make Applejacks:

Step 1 Sanitation: The first step is also perhaps the most important and will be repeated throughout the process. You will want to make sure that you sanitize everything that comes into contact with your cider. This includes your hands, carboy, and stirring stick. You don’t want to sanitize everything. I once attempted to make homemade wine. How-to-make-applejackSome bacteria got into it and my wine turned into 5 gallons of vinegar.  I cannot stress the importance of sanitization.

Step 2 Preparing Ingredients: The apple concentrate should already be sanitary. However, if you are really paranoid, you may find it advantageous to boil the concentrate while you stir in your sugar. This is especially important if you pressed your own apples. You can also just mix your apple concentrate and sugar in your sanitized carboy.

Step 3 Fermentation: You will want to use a high alcohol producing yeast. Preferably a high yielding beer yeast, wine yeast, or distillers yeast. You do not want to use Turbo yeast. You will want to add your yeast when your carboy is around 75-80 degrees F. You packet of yeast should tell you the temperature range of the yeast. After adding your yeast, you should begin to see signs of fermentation within the first 12 hours. If you don’t see any signs of fermentation after the first day, you may either not have enough sugar, or your cider is to cold.

You may find it advantageous to add a pound or two of sugar after the first couple of days. This will help increase the alcohol content of your cider. The more sugar you have, the higher your alcohol content. However, if you add to much sugar your yeast will get stressed and produce off flavors. There is also a limit to how much alcohol your yeast can survive in. Much of this is dependent on what kind of yeast you use. A beer hydrometer will tell you the alcohol content of your cider.

After your first week you will see the yeast start to settle to the bottom of your carboy. At which time you will want to rack (transfer) your cider into a second fermentation vessel. You will want to make sure to leave the settled yeast behind. This is best done with the use of a small hand pump. These can be purchased either online or at your local home brew supply store.

Step 4 Freeze Distillation: You will be ready to distill your apple cider after about 10 days of fermentation. You will either want to use a food grade plastic when freeze distilling, the reason being that the alcohol will eat away at said plastic. If it’s winter you can leave you container outside and let it freeze. However, if it’s summer you will obviously need to use a freezer. Most of freeze distillation comes down to common sense. You cider will expand as it freezes. You will be aware of this if you have ever left a can of soda in the freezer for too long. As such, it is preferable to keep your container either uncovered or partially empty. Alcohol freezes at -173 degrees F, whereas water freezes at 32 degrees F. The proportion of water to alcohol will affect the temperature at which the beverage will freeze.

You will want to syphon out the liquid from the ice once a day (depending on how impatient you are). The more ice alcohol hydrometeryou remove the higher the alcohol content. The higher the alcohol content the longer it will take for your applejack to freeze. The biggest limiting factor when it comes to the alcohol content of your Applejack is cold your freezer is.

I have heard off the alcohol content getting as high as 45% alcohol (90 proof). You can use your alcohol hydrometer to check the alcohol content of your Applejack. However, you will want to make sure that your Applejack is around 60 degrees F when you use your hydrometer. The reason for this is that the temperature will affect the hydrometers reading.

If you have a still, you may prefer to simply distill your alcohol as you would with any other distilled spirit.

Step 4 Aging: This step isn’t necessary, but can improve your Applejack After you have distilled your cider you will have Applejack. At this point you can choose to either drink or age your Applejack. It’s up to you. Ageing your Applejack with toasted oak chips can add some great flavors. You will want to put your Applejack into a glass Mason jar with your toasted oak chips. After sealing your Mason jar, you will want to keep it in a warm place and let it site for a week. The warmer the environment the more flavors it will extract from the oak.

Video on how to make apple cider:

Video on making Applejack: 


22 Comments

  • chris says:

    You never once mention the air lock in the instructions. Open air fermenting at any point? Who knows.

  • Martin says:

    One note. Legal and scientific term is freeze concentration.
    – Taking the alcohol out, leaving the water behind is distillation
    – Taking the water out, leaving the alcohol is concentration

  • Dean says:

    Why not Turbo yeast ?

  • admin says:

    Yeast effects the flavor. Turbo yeast isn’t bad for making neutral spirits such as Vodka, but does not work well for spirits such as whiskey and apllejacks. It basically comes down to personal preference.

  • Peter says:

    Just finished my second attempt following your recipe. The first worked out great. The Jack is tasty. Quite boozy as my deep freeze is at -29 Celsius.
    Very drinkable!
    I used the “salad spinner” method to remove the ice. I found it sped up the process a lot.
    Thanks for posting this!

    Peter in Vancouver BC.

  • Paul says:

    Great article, but I’m wondering about the methanol in the mash. How do you get rid of it with ” freeze distillation” ?

  • Other martin says:

    The guy that said technically jacking is concentrating not distilling is correct. But he over simplified his explination as the concentration process seperates the two and which is removed from the other is up for debate. I like to think of distillation as art and freeze concentrating a hobby 😉

  • Matt says:

    This does not remove methanol. It’s important to know that you should never do this. The people who did suffered from the effects of the methanol. They called it “apple palsy”.

    There is a reason this is illegal now, even for licensed distillers.

  • Evan says:

    Is methanol a concern?

  • josh says:

    Actually, eisbock or icebocking is quite popular with high end german beermakers. Applejack is virtually the same process. It is legal for breweries in the usa to produce ice distilled products if they are also liscensed as distillery. (Legally speaking, removing water ice from an alcoholic beverage is considered distilling in the u.s.) Ask milwaukee brewing company about how it makes milwaukees best ice, if you are afraid of poisoning. It doesn’t please the palette but the stuff sells all day.

  • Kryten says:

    Regarding methanol and concerns related to so-called “apple palsy”:
    Should their be concern? Possibly. Undue concern that this is dangerous or even God forbid illegal? Nothing of the kind.

    First allow me to address the legal concerns.

    Distillation is evaporation and collection of a liquid by condensation. Wherever under jurisdiction of the United States and its territories the law requires that you be licensed or bonded for the manufacture and distribution of distilled products. If you choose to distill a fermented product without adherence to these laws you run the risk of legal problems.

    That said unless you make what you are up to public knowledge or do something stupid like try to sell your hooch you probably aren’t going to attract any attention and you’ll be okay, maybe.

    Folks have been ‘jacking’ or freeze concentrating cider, beer, and wine either out doors or in a freezer for centuries. It was done with great popularity in New England during the colonial period and continued to be well known when the present laws were created.

    The federal statues of the U.S. do not explicitly forbid this process. Your locality may very well have more stringent regulations.

    An inquiry has been made to the applicable U.S. regulatory body (TTB) specific to this issue. The response that was received was this:

    “Under TTB regulations the method used to make ice beer is not considered distillation. Any concerns TTB has about the amount of ice that is removed is in regard to proper tax classification which is not applicable to home brewers brewing beer for personal or family use.”

    Next the health concerns. All alcoholic beverages that contain ethyl alcohol have some measure of methyl alcohol. It is a product of fermentation and in large doses is harmful, it can cause you to lose your vision and will kill if taken an large doses.

    It is true that if you concentrate alcohol by freezing you will necessarily concentrate all alcohols the good and the bad. So if you have 12 ounces of a liquor and you concentrate it to 4 ounces whatever amount of alcohol, both good and bad that work in those original 12 ounces will also be in the 4 ounces you end up with. That’s where moderation comes in, if you don’t over serve yourself you will not have a problem.

    However human nature being what it is means that we are not going to be satisfied with a smaller quantity, we’re now going to want 12 ounces of this now more concentrated beverage.

    The way that I deal with this matter is by planning ahead. Methyl alcohol, undesirable fusel alcohols, and other congeners are increased in fermentations with a high pectin levels, when so-called ‘turbo yeasts’ are used, and during high temperature fermentations.

    By eliminating pectin, using quality yeast, and drawing out fermentation under low temperature I produce an applejack that is pleasing, legal, and doesn’t cause health problems.

  • Jimbo says:

    To anyone concerned about the legality of this; check your local regulations or quit asking and just do it. If you’re selling liquor then you are more likely to be busted. If you’re giving bottles to friends nobody should bust you and everyone has a good time.

  • MethylethylKetone says:

    I would say in most small batches your not going to have enough methanol in your drink to do much harm, I don’t see why you couldn’t let it simmer on the stove for a couple minutes just to be extra safe if your that concerned. Methanol has a very low boiling point so yes it will be the first to rise up out of your pot.

  • MethylethylKetone says:

    Methanol boiling point 148.5°F

  • Barry says:

    Excellent article. Is it OK to use apple cider that has been pasteurized?

  • Irv says:

    You can remove the methanol simply by steeping your finished product for for a while between 150 and 170 degrees F. That boils off the methanol. Point is this is a way to produce liquer for personal consumotion without the need or legal hassle of illegal stills.

  • Bobby says:

    Can this be made with just regular apple juice or apple cider?

  • Hi,
    this is a great recipe. Do you think it could work with mead? I’ve heard that there is a drink called honey jack, but I can’t find anything on the net. My friend has taken up beekeeping recently, but he doesn’t want to sell his honey, so he’s looking for a way to make it useful, well, maybe rather more enjoyable than just honey. Can you help me? Thx.

  • Hosting says:

    In my country obtaining a bottle of applejack is about impossible, while cider slowly gains some foothold. I have managed to obtain a few liters of apple cider for reasonable price and happen to have a decent quality freezer. I’d like to use freeze-concentration to produce some applejack from it, to have a glass of the legendary drink.

  • Robin says:

    I have an over abundance of apple butter, can I make this or anything from it? Newbie, so talk down to me.. proportions, type of yeast, etc.

  • Robert says:

    Thanks for the detailed instructions. I am preparing some apple cider too. Currently fermentation is still in process. Once its done, I am planning to use the microstill to distill the applejack. The microstill allows a hassle free distillation and can be operated by anyone.

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