A Modern Spin on the Tried and True

"Jacking," bumping up alcohol content through freezing, is alive and thriving
The crew at Scottsdale's UnderTow, including Jason Asher (far right).
The crew at Scottsdale's UnderTow, including Jason Asher (far right). (Photo: Facebook)

You’re probably already familiar with Applejack brandy, a colonial favorite so beloved by Yankees that it actually served as a form of payment in the 1700s. What you may not know is that this traditional, apple-flavored beverage is responsible for the term “jacking,” an old-school technique that increases the alcohol content by way of freeze distillation.

For a while, New Jersey’s Laird & Company distillery, founded in 1780, was the only producer of Applejack in the States and the place where jacking was perfected, but others have since stepped forward to preserve the art. Some have adapted the freeze distillation technique and applied it to their menus in new, creative ways.

One such person is Jason Asher, bartender and co-owner of Arizona-based bars UnderTow and Counter Intuitive. He uses the jacking technique as a form of rapid infusion by way of modern-day Individual Quick Frozen (IQF).

The Traditional Jacking Technique

Before we dive into Asher’s adaptation of jacking, let’s first discuss how jacking works in the first place. Though this is a technique from the colonial era, it can still be done today. And really, it’s probably easier with our newfangled contraptions that allow for jacking outside of the cold months (here’s a great how-to).

In either case, apple cider is poured into sanitized equipment and high alcohol-producing yeast is added. Sugar can also be added to increase flavor and alcohol content. After several weeks of fermentation, the carboy is transferred outdoors (or in modern times: to a freezer). This is where the true jacking takes place.

For about two weeks, the cider sits in the frigid cold. Because alcohol freezes at a lower temperature (-173 Fahrenheit) than water (32 Fahrenheit), the alcohol content increases and has been infused in the process. Though you end up with about a third of the original volume, you’re left with a brandy that’s between 20 to 50 percent alcohol.

Jacking Technique for Rapid Infusion

Asher uses a similar process, only he does so in tiny increments instead of giant carboys, and uses solid IQF fruit versus apple cider. IQF foods are commonplace in the culinary and food preparation world. It’s the reason your frozen peas aren’t all stuck together when you dump them out of the bag; the food pieces are individually frozen (hence the name).

In terms of “jacking,” Asher takes IQF fruit, which is quickly frozen at the height of its ripeness, and dumps it into his choice spirit. For example, pineapple paired with gin, or strawberries with Fernet-Branca.

“We typically use one pound of IQF fruit to infuse one liter of spirit, and leave it to infuse for the designated time-period – between 24 and 36 hours – at room temperature,” he explained. “Then we strain off the fruit and any sediment with a fine mesh strainer. Because the cell walls were permeated and stabilized due to the freezing, the result, once thawed, is a rapid leaching of the juice into the spirit.”

Unlike traditional jacking, you lose a couple ABV points since the fruit absorbs some of the alcohol. However, you’re left with a “beautifully infused spirit,” that didn’t take much time to create and maintains the integrity of the fruit’s flavor, Asher says.

Recipes To Try

Want to give it a go? Asher has been gracious enough to share his IQF pineapple recipe, along with a cocktail to use it in:

Pineapple Gin

  • 1-lb. frozen pineapple (IQF)
  • 750ml St. George Terroir Gin

Combine and infuse at room temperature for 36 hours.

Fine strain and put back into bottles.

Oaxacan the Plank

  • oz Del Maguey VIDA Mezcal
  • oz Pineapple St. George Terroir
  • 0.50 oz Giffard Peach
  • 0.50 oz Amontillado Sherry
  • 0.25 oz Sfumato
  • oz Lemon Juice
  • 0.50 oz Rich Simple

Shake, double strain, coupe, pineapple wedge

Wendy Rose Gould is a freelance lifestyle reporter and photographer based in Phoenix, Arizona. From Tel Aviv to Miami, from Prague to NYC, she enjoys sipping on well-crafted cocktails in all corners of the world.

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