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While Jersey may be late to the craft-distilling party, it’s no stranger to spirits. The Garden State is the proud home of the country’s oldest distillery: Laird & Company, leading producer of applejack and apple brandy, headquartered in the Scobeyville section of Colts Neck.
Laird’s has survived the ultimate test of time. The company’s story dates to around 1698, when Scotsman William Laird settled in Monmouth County and began distilling the area’s most abundant crop (apples) to produce apple brandy, often referred to as applejack. The most popular drink of Colonial times, a young George Washington drank it, even requesting—and receiving—Laird’s recipe for “cyder spirits.”
In 1780, after the American Revolution, Laird’s received the new nation’s first distillery permit. Prohibition could have easily flattened Laird’s, as it did hundreds of other distilleries in the state, had the company not received a federal liquor license to distill apple brandy for medicinal purposes.
Generations of the Laird family have carried the company several centuries. Lisa Laird Dunn, vice president and world ambassador, represents the ninth generation to lead the business. Her father, Larrie Laird, is still involved in operations. And a few years ago, her son, Gerard Dunn, became the 10th generation to join the company full-time. “It’s pretty unheard of to have three generations working together,” says Lisa.
In the company’s heyday, Laird’s operated three distilleries—in Scobeyville and upstate New York—to keep up with demand for its applejack. But by 1975, annual sales had plummeted. That, coupled with a lack of apples still being grown in New Jersey, made Laird’s decide to move its distilling operations to Virginia, just outside Charlottesville, near the source of their apples in the Shenandoah Valley. Aging and bottling still take place in Scobeyville, says Lisa. “When we are distilling, we have three truckloads [of spirits] come in per day,” she says.
Today, Laird’s sells a range of pure apple brandies, aged up to 12 years. But its biggest moneymaker is blended applejack, made with apple brandy and neutral grain spirits, a category Larrie Laird introduced in 1972 that went on to be embraced by bartenders during the craft-cocktail revival. “My father lives and breathes his passion for applejack,” says Lisa. “It’s what really put Laird’s back on the map.”Click here to leave a comment