In this cool, fertile Appalachian region, as in most of the Northeast, apples were then far more plentiful than the grains needed to make whiskey. Up to and through the Prohibition era, there were countless producers making and (illegally) selling applejack in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where roads were limited and trees provided thick cover from government agents.
Local Wilkes County bootleggers like Junior Johnson, the Thomas brothers and the Flock family famously became the first generation of NASCAR drivers in the 1940s and ’50s, and many of the sport’s first speedways, along with its Hall of Fame, are within 100 miles of here.
The original applejack, which many historians believe was invented by American colonists, was produced by a low-tech method called “jacking.” Jacked spirits are distilled not by the usual method of boiling, but by freezing, and any household with a supply of hard cider and cold weather could make applejack.
With each freeze, the water in the cider crystallizes into slushy ice. Each time the ice is skimmed off, the concentration of alcohol grows, until what is left in the barrel reaches about 40 proof. That clear spirit is applejack — not as strong as modern distilled spirits like vodka, but strong enough to last the winter.