By Analiese Paik
This is the first installment in our Holiday 2014 Green Food Gift Guide.
Westford Hill Distillers’ award-winning New World Aged Apple Brandy is an outstanding gift choice for locavores, fine spirits lovers, and any New Englander fond of sipping brandy in front of a fireplace.
Westford Hill Distillers in Ashford, Connecticut has been making award-winning eau-de-vie (unaged fruit brandies) since the company’s founding in 1998 and began releasing aged apple brandy made entirely from Connecticut apples a few years ago. Currently, their 12- and 13-year-old apple brandies are on store shelves and the 14-year-old will be released mid-December.
Prized by chefs and mixologists, Westford Hill Distillers New World Aged Apple Brandy is served at The Whelk and Kawa Ni in Westport, Atlas in Norwalk, Elm in New Canaan, Boulevard in New Canaan, Versailles in Greenwich, Banc house in Norwalk, Mamas Boy Southern Table in Norwalk and other fine restaurants. Chris Carlsson of Spirits Review calls it “One of the best apple brandies (of any type) we have had. Unmatched for subtlety, complexity and overall flavor.” Westford Hill’s 12-year-old apple brandy won a Gold Medal for best in category in 2012 from the American Distilling Institute’s 6th Annual Judging of American Spirits.
The brandy-making process takes place at the distillery, beginning with the delivery of heirloom apples from Lyman Orchards, a working farm since 1749. McIntosh, Northern Spy, Graventsein, and Jona Gold apples are crushed and cold-fermented in separate tanks to produce single-varietal hard ciders.
The hard ciders are transferred in small batches to a hybrid pot/column still (a German Holstein) to be distilled under the watchful eye and discerning palate of Louis Chatey, co-owner with his wife Margaret of Westford Hill Distillers. The distillate is then aged for at least eight years in French oak barrels until the right complexity of oak and apple is achieved, then each is carefully tasted and evaluated, blended, bottled and labeled. Each apple variety is pressed, fermented, distilled and aged separately to provide the Chatey’s with complete control over the final product. The blend of apples changes from year to year and the 16-year-old brandies, still in barrels, will yield a few more.
“We’re still experimenting” says Louis Chatey. “We started sixteen years ago and it’s still a work in progress. There was no template for apple brandy – what varieties to use and how to blend them. That was lost in Prohibition. We’re reinventing it.” I learned during a recent distillery tour that during Prohibition thousands of acres of apple orchards were ripped out to prevent people from making hard cider and distilling it. All the work of Johnny Appleseed was lost, and along with it heirloom apple varieties and recipes for historic apple beverages.
The Chatey’s property dates back to 1711 when it was first settled by Thomas Peak from New Haven and has been in the Chatey family since the early 1900s. Out in the woods about a mile from the house the remains of a charcoal kiln from the mid-1700s and a “smugglers tree”, where tax-free hooch once traded hands, provide evidence that the farm was once home to one of the original distilleries in New England. How apropos that the property has found its way back to its roots.
Earlier this year, Westford Hill Distillers worked with Slow Food International to define the process for producing true American Aged Apple Brandy for its International Ark of Taste in an effort to protect the heritage of the spirit. In October 2014, Westford Hill Distillers’ New World Aged Apple Brandy was featured at Slow Food’s Terra Madre event in Turin, Italy as an example of the craft.
I recommend buying a bottle for yourself and serving your guests a Connecticut cocktail this holiday season. This recipe for Old Money is courtesy of Westford Hill Distillers, and was my favorite from the cocktail tasting at the distillery celebrating New England Aged Apple Brandy’s inclusion in Slow Food’s Ark of Taste.
2 oz. Rime Organic Vodka (also made by Westford Hill Distillers)
1 oz. Apple Brandy
½ oz. fresh lime juice
*½ oz. lavender simple syrup
Combine with ice in shaker, shake, and pour into a beautiful glass to serve.
*For lavender simple syrup, combine one cup sugar with one cup water in a saucepan, bring to a boil to dissolve. Add about one tablespoon spoon of dried lavender, shut off heat and let steep for about 20 minutes. Strain and refrigerate.