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)
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. Some 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 you 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: