Apple juice was fermented because before we had refrigeration, it was hard to stop that from happening — apples would just ferment naturally. When English colonists first arrived in North America, they enthusiastically embraced the wide range of wild fruits they found growing, from grapes to berries and of course, begam to make wines and ciders. Unlike back in England, however, edible apples were tough to find. The colonists quickly got to work on rectifying this situation, and as early as 1623 they were planting cider apples in New England from imported seeds. Apples flourished in the fertile soil and friendly climate, and soon apples were a key part of most colonial farms and menus.
Cider has several advantages over beer. First of all, even though it takes a few years for the trees to be productive, its easier to grow apples that barly and wheat. It also does not require brewing so the process of making apple cider is far simpler, just juice the apples and allow them to ferment (using airborne yeast). Its also easier to fortify. Applejack is cider that had been further fortified by simply allowing it to freeze, then draining off the alcohol (which freezes at a lower temperature). By aerobically fermenting the apple cores and skins, it is easy to make apple cider vinegar (bacterial fermentation not yeast), which allowed colonists to preserve vegetables through pickling, a godsend during long New England winters.
Of course our second president, John Adams, was an ardent cider enthusiast. Adams was strict about having an apple a day, and cider was his preferred way to get it. Adams kick-started each day by draining a tankard of hard cider — he once mused of this daily ritual, “It seems to do me good.” Adams became a cider devotee as a college student and later reminisced about his student days of throwing back cider: “I shall never forget, how refreshing and salubrious we found it, hard as it often was.”
But by far, the most important person in the history of American Cider is John Chapman. Chapman was an accomplished orchardist and nurseryman in Lexington, Massachusetts. When Jefferson opened up Louisiana, Congress allowed people to lay claim to land through development of a permanent homestead. Such a claim could be made by planting 50 apple trees. So in his travels through Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Illinois, Chapman would plant swaths of seeds to begin an orchard, then sell them to settlers once the land had grown bountiful. This made him quite the land baron. When he died 1845, he had he traversed 100,000 square miles of Midwestern wilderness and prairie and still owned more than 1200 acres of land.
The apples that Chapman planted weren’t the sweet “Red Delicious” apples you get in a modern grocery. These where small and tart hardy apples ideal for making cider and applejack. In an era where transportation was slow, applejack was a far more valuable crop than edible apples.
So in the true sense of American tradition. Enjoy glass of cider for breakfast but not that cloyingly sweet sugar water. No, let it sit a few weeks and enjoy some real apple cider. It will do you good.