Monday, November 10, 2008

Benton County Brandy

In 1895, the Internal Revenue Office reported that one Bentonville firm produced 21,395.7 gallons of brandy, in period from July 1 to November 19, making it the largest apple brandy distillery in the South. Then the Depression and disease wiped out the apple crops, and John Brown, Sr. banished alcohol altogether. Except for the private clubs that mock the law, making it necessary for locals to drive to Springdale, Oklahoma, or Missouri to get a cold six pack of beer.

Perhaps you have wondered how the apple blossom was chosen as the official state flower. Back before chickens and Wal-Mart, Northwest Arkansas was the leading apple producing region in the nation, and there were numerous industries associated with the processing of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. That glorious history is recounted in an interesting article in today's Benton County Daily Record, drawing on historical records of the Rogers Historical Museum and the fulsome knowledge of Dr. Roy Rom, a retired University of Arkansas professor of horticulture who specialized in apple production and breeding research. No offense, but all that research hasn't produced anything that can beat the traditional Arkansas Black.

Today, red dirt developments have replaced most of the orchards. Only in Lincoln does the memory live on during the first weekend in October at the annual Arkansas Apple Festival. That celebration began only in 1976, long after the peak of apple production but with an eye on the new crop of tourists. It was created with that much despised evil, federal money, and the imagination of Lloyd Swope, a community spirited banker.

We will take what we can get these days, but a warm mug of buttered Arkansas Applejack by a crackling fire would be nice tonight.

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