I was browsing Total Wine looking for affordable cask strength and/or single barrel selections. I stumbled upon Heaven’s Door, which I recently reviewed, and Laird’s Apple Brandy Single Cask Selection. It was very reasonably priced, and I haven’t written much about brandy, other than Cognac’s such as D’usse and Hennessy.
The standard expression of Laird’s Apple Brandy is blended with neutral grain spirits (aka vodka), and I really didn’t want to try that, so their single cask cask strength expression seemed like the way to go.
In this article, we’ll discuss a little bit about what brandy is and Laird’s history before jumping into more specifics. Is Laird’s Apple Brandy good? How should I drink it? And, what are the best cocktails to make with it?
Laird & Company History
It may come as a surprise, but Laird’s actually holds (and boasts) the title of longest continually running licensed distillery in America… that was a mouthful. A lot of distilleries make claims like this – “oldest distillery”, “oldest licensed distillery”, “oldest continually running distillery”, “oldest whiskey..” and so on. You get my point… I think.
Regardless, Laird’s has been around for quite some time. In 1780, Laird & Company became a licensed distillery and sold their first bottle. However, their history dates back to 1698 when Alexander Laird emigrated from Scotland to America – modern day New Jersey. He began distilling apples for the use of himself and his friends.
The Laird website also mentions that George Washington wrote to the Laird family, requesting their Applejack recipe. Applejack was the first brandy they produced, many many years before launching Laird’s Apple Brandy.
One way the Laird family was able to continuously distill brandy was by providing medicinal spirits throughout the war and during prohibition.
Present day, Laird & Company is still family owned and located in Scobeyville, New Jersey
Laird’s Apple Brandy Single Cask Selection Overview
- Spirit: Single cask cask strength apple brandy
- Owned By: Laird & Company
- Distilled By: Laird & Company
- Aged: 54 month, 4 1/2 years
- ABV: 60.5%, 121 proof
- Mashbill: 100% apple
- Barrel #: 18E03#29
- Bottle #: 116 of 198
- Price: $55
What is Brandy?
I have a more extensive article on all the differences between brandy and whiskey, so I’ll try to keep this brief.
Essentially, brandy is distilled fruit. There aren’t any aging requirements for brandy, but it’s typically aged in oak barrels. There are different types of brandy such as Cognac or Armagnac. They have specific requirements much like bourbon has requirements to be more than American whiskey.
Vodka can also be distilled from fruit, so how is that any different from brandy? Well, Brandy must be distilled at less than 190 proof, whereas vodka must be distilled at or above 190 proof.
Single Cask Selection
Laird’s Apple Brandy Single Cask Selection is single barrel and cask strength. The whiskey from this bottle/barrel, identified above, comes from a single barrel. It’ll have a unique profile specific to the barrel it was aged in.
It’s also bottled at 121 proof, so no water was used to cut the brandy after aging.
The actual distillation process takes place in Scobeyville, NJ, but it starts before then – with the apples. Apples are picked from North Garden, VA and sent to NJ where they are mashed, fermented, and distilled.
The brandy in this specific bottle spent 54 months, 4 1/2 years, in oak casks before bottling.
Laird’s Apple Brandy Tasting Notes
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to tasting. Is Laird’s Apple Brandy good? Time to find out.
Nose: Not quite as potent as I was expecting on the nose for an apple brandy at 121 proof. There’s apple with a decent amount of baking spice and green, floral spice as well. I also get a decent grape note, one that reminds me of the Welch’s white grape juice.
Going back after taking a sip brings a little more of that vanilla and oak from the 4 1/2 years of aging. It’s an older, dry oak, caramel apple, more spice, and a touch of paint from the high proof.
Palate: I’m definitely getting more apple on the palate than the nose. Fairly sweet, without overdoing it. The oak and vanilla is also present, which brings it out in the nosing a bit more. Not as thick as some of your nicer whiskey, but not thin. Sweetness fades as the brandy becomes warmer.
Finish: The warmth crescendos right at the end of the sip and start of the finish. Pepper sizzles and eventually goes to some barrel char and vanilla.
Laird’s Apple Brandy Single Cask Selection is an interesting and fun dram. Every sip seems to offer a different lead note. I get strong apple notes at first. My next sip is heavy floral notes and spice. Next, I’m getting oak, barrel char, and rich vanilla as the primary flavor. And, the brandy is just as pleasant, no matter which notes I’m getting.
There’s a lot of warmth here, with little to no burn. When Chris Stapleton sings “You’re as warm as a glass of brandy”, this is what I imagine he’s talking about. You can add a touch of water, it’ll still drink strong, but it does cool down just a bit. A splash of water muted the green notes and spice, brought apple to the front, and strengthened the oak and vanilla at the back end of the sip.
The one downside for whiskey drinkers can be the viscosity. If you’re used to, and looking for, a really thick, creamy liquid, this isn’t it. As I mentioned, it’s not thin by any means, but it won’t deliver the same mouthfeel as your favorite single barrel bourbon.
I’ve really enjoyed this bottle. Part of the reason, I think, is because this is brandy distilled from apples, not apple flavored brandy or whiskey. There’s a lot more going on here. It’s not even close to being in the same ballpark as apple flavored whiskey that brands such as Crown, Jack, or Jim Beam make.
Of course, this is a single cask expression, so you may get different notes and have a whole different experience with a different bottle from a different barrel.
I’ve never had the standard expression of Laird’s Apple Brandy, and I’m not sure I want to. It’s mixed with neutral grain spirit, and I enjoyed the Single Cask Selection too much to go backwards in their lineup… I probably should’ve started with their base expression, but oh well.
I said it with Heaven’s Door Single Barrel Single Cask, and I’ll say it here too – $55 for a quality single barrel single cask whiskey or brandy is a good deal.
Laird’s Apple Brandy Summary
I think the most surprising aspect of Laird’s Apple Brandy was the restraint of the apple note. Don’t get me wrong, apple was very much there, but it wasn’t overshadowing anything else. There were also strong similarities to whiskey with lots of vanilla and oak, no doubt due to the oak barrels. The green and floral spice was a nice addition as well.
I imagine most whiskey drinkers would appreciate Laird’s Apple Brandy – at least their single cask selection, that is. It is certainly on the sweeter side, but the warmth, spice, and oak balance it quite nicely.
I’m satisfied with my purchase, and I’d certainly recommend picking up a bottle if you’re interesting in getting into brandy.