It’s home to Springsteen, the Sopranos and Snooki, but New Jersey is also the founding grounds of America’s oldest family-owned distillery.
This year Laird & Company will celebrate 332 years in the business of making apple brandy—and making history.
“We are the 14th oldest family business in the United States,” says Lisa Laird, among the 9th generation to run the company, along with her father Larrie Laird. “We’re part of the birth and the growth of America.”
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“My ancestors fought in the war. My fourth great grandfather was a revolutionary war soldier under General George Washington,” says Lisa about the family’s deep historical roots. “His uncle actually served George Washington and his officers in his home.”
What George Washington was served was Laird’s Applejack, a favorite of many a U.S. president.
“Abraham Lincoln served Laird’s Applejack in his tavern in Springfield, Illinois which many people aren’t aware that he was even a tavern owner at one time,” says Lisa “But he did have a tavern and Laird’s Apple Brandy was on the bill of fare dated 1833.”
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Today the company manufactures at its facilities in Virginia and New Jersey—bottling about a million cases a year.
“It takes about 100 pounds of apples to make one 750 ml. [of Applejack],” says Larrie. “This year we’ll process a little over 3 million apples.”
Staying competitive today requires ingenuity and innovation for any business, but staying competitive for more than 300 years? Well, that’s another story.
“The company was shut down at the beginning of prohibition,” says Larrie. “Approximately four years before the end of prohibition, my father and my uncle came and reopened the plant primarily as a fresh cider facility, producing fresh juice.”
Two years later, Laird received a license to distill for the federal government—primarily for the military—which allowed the company to operate during prohibition and ready inventory for sale when prohibition ended.
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These days, innovation is a little more clandestine. State of the art machinery is at the core of that process, including replacing wooden fermenters with new fiber glass tanks to improve efficiency.
“The benefit of these new tanks is they’re all enclosed,” says Danny Swanson, Laird’s Master Distiller . “They’re also heated so when it gets colder, we’re able to put the heat on the cider.”
Even though they’re moving forward, Larrie and his daughter are proud to be part of tradition and American history.
“I don’t think that my seventh great grandfather, when he started the family business, had any inclination that his descendants—nine generations—would still be involved in running the family firm that he started,” says Lisa. “It’s just a lot of pride and I’m so happy I can continue with the family tradition.”
- George Washington