The crab apple or crabapple tree is the only malus species native to North America. There are many types and some of the larger varieties will produce fruit that is tasty enough to eat right off the tree. Crab apples are edible but they may range in taste from sour to bitter even after cooking. The first European settlers of Jamestown experienced this tartness of the crab apple fruit and decided to bring additional seeds and apple tree cuttings from the much sweeter European apple trees (malus domestica) to the US. Due to this sour to bitter taste spectrum of local crab apples, it is likely that most of these apples were used to make cider and apple brandy. And indeed, brandy and apple cider were common and popular drinks in the early colonies.
In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is Freedom, in water there is bacteria.Benjamin Franklin
In the 17th century alcoholic beverages such as wine, beer and cider were served to adults and children alike, because clean drinking water was a rarity and fermented beverages were indeed safer to drink and known to be cleaner than water. This was common in the North American Colonies as well as in Europe lacking modern hygienic standards and knowledge. It wasn’t until around the early 1900s, that especially people in North America popularly stopped using apples for drink and decided they should predominantly eat them. One big factor in the US was the Women’s Christian Temperance Union that paved the way for prohibition in America.
Prohibition had an impact on apple production in the US
Shifting away from fruit based alcoholic beverages during prohibition period also meant that the cultivation of sour and bitter apple varieties in the US were followed by orchards focusing on sweet varieties of malus domestica and their hybrids simply because customers love to bite in a fresh and sweet tasting apple. To make an exquisit brandy though – sour and bitter apples are needed to create a full apple flavor profile and today one needs to go the extra mile to create an excellent and truly American Apple Brandy.
To create a fine apple brandy one needs three types of apples: a sweet one, a bitter one and a sour one. Only this creates the incredible apple aroma and makes American Apple Brandy special.Caroline Porsiel, Master Distiller