A Few Words About Jersey Lightning

When I met with cocktail journalist Robert Simonson recently to talk about his new book, The Old-Fashioned, I asked him about how he did his research. One tool that I didn’t realize was so readily available was the archives of the old newspaper, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. It was published from 1841 to 1955 and its entire run is searchable online through the Brooklyn Public Library.

Brooklyn Eagle Nov 1 1901For fun, I started searching for some terms. “Applejack” gave me more than 600 results over the paper’s run. On November 3, 1901, the Eagle ran a short piece that seems to have been reprinted from a Newark paper about applejack, or apple brandy. I’m not sure how many distillers Monmouth County, N.J. had in 1901, but today — and since 1698 — there’s one: Laird’s. The article describes the “old days” when “every farmer who was anybody would have five or ten barrels in his cellar maturing, these being the product of his own apples, distilled for him at the nearest stillhouse.” And of course back then, there was “little or no drunkenness—surely not so much as now, anyhow.”

The piece describes two ways of drinking applejack:

“While its consumption out of the state seems not to have increased much, its quality has not been debased, as anyone can testify who drinks the old Monmouth liquor in company with the usually poor substitute served by so many otherwise first class cafes in this city. The Monmouth man drinks it straight and uses it in place of rye in mixtures, such as cocktails, juleps, highballs, etc. He particularly delights in the Sunset or Jersey Sunset, which is applejack on chipped ice and water, in a long glass, with a swish of lemon peel and a dash of angostura, the latter being allowed to float on top for its sunset hue. The applejack mint julip [sic] is without doubt a delicious concoction. In drinking it the use of a straw is considered profanation. The spearmint, fresh from the garden, is stuck in liberally, so that one’s nose is buried in it by the act of drinking. Then it is that as the nectar gurgles in the throat, giving refreshment and content, one hears the rippling brooklet, the singing of the forest birds, smells the wild flowers and apple blossoms, and wishes for nothing but another.”

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