A Brief Look at Rifton and Esopus History


Applejack is a brandy made from hard cider. During prohibition, the many apple farms of the Hudson Valley provided countless gallons of this sometimes potent liquer to speakeasys from Albany to New York City. Jack "Legs" Diamond was the most famous syndicate figure of local fame. He ran his operation out of the mountains west of Catskill.

There were a great number of small stills around the town of Esopus. We will not provide too many names in deference to surviving relatives. Suffice to say that some of the large hotels in Rifton even had hidden rooms in which to store the stuff. Most of the prohibition applejack was hastily made and probably not deserving of the name brandy. However, every still master kept a part of his wares for friends and personal use. It was properly aged for at least three months in used wooden wine casks, to mellow the flavor and to impart a bit of color. This was exquisite stuff indeed. (Yes, the author actually tried some a few years ago. It had been saved by the proud owner for over fifty years.)

There are actually two ways of making applejack. The first involves the use of a still to boil off the alcohol from the hard cider, leaving the water behind. This requires a bit of equipment as well as a source of heat. A Still would occasionally explode. Stills were the most commonly used method because they could be used at any time of year and were relatively fast. The second method involves freezing the hard cider to between 20 and 30 degrees fahrenheit. The water in the mix turns to ice, but the alcohol remains liquid. One only needs to drain off the alcohol. When this is done, some of the cider solids drain with the alcohol, adding a nice color and a more complex flavor. The freezing can be repeated to increase the proof of the beverage. Since refrigeration was a new concept in the 1920s freezing was subject to the whims of the winter weather and could not be easily done in any other season.

The author has heard of only one raid of an alcohol making operation in Rifton. For better or for worse, the Federal agents only arrested the owner of the building, who professed complete innocence. The gentlemen who were renting the place from him were never captured.

In the Klyne Esopus Historical  Society Museum archives are copies of legal documents (owned by Susan Boice) concerning the arrests of two residents for bootlegging. What makes these arrests remarkable is that they took place in 1956!
The museum leadership (Alexander Contini) has refused to return these documents to their legal owner.

Photo of Friedman Hotel The Friedman Hotel in about 1920.