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Everything You Need to Know About Calvados, France’s Historic Apple Brandy

While Normandy, France, may invoke visuals of D-Day or the island abbey of Mont Saint-Michel, it should also conjure a few delicious images: creamy cheeses, dry cider and most prominently, Calvados. An apple brandy produced exclusively in the region, the spirit keeps showing up on today’s drink menus. Here’s what you need to know.

A Taste of History

Calvados is an apple brandy with Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) status. It can only be  produced in Normandy, much like Cognac is a specific brandy that can only be distilled from white wine made within a particular region from certain grapes. Calvados isn’t distilled from wine grapes, however. It begins as cider.

While a small percentage of perry pears is permitted, the base cider is made primarily from apples. These must be grown in Normandy, where more than 200 varieties are cultivated. Producers can use four types of apples: sweet, bittersweet, bitter and bittersharp. The fruit is pressed and fermented, then distilled into an eau de vie and aged at least two years in oak.

The first written records of apple eau-de-vie and apple brandy date to the 1500s, but it wasn’t until the 19th century, when phylloxera destroyed countless European vineyards and decimated France’s Cognac supply, that Calvados enjoyed much popularity beyond its birthplace.

Enjoyed Today

Now, many bartenders consider Calvados a more approachable brandy.

“Since the flavor of apples is more easily identified, there’s a more instant gratification of ‘getting it,’ ” says Daniel Lovig, beverage director at Santa Monica, California’s Pasjoli.

Generally, mature Calvados is most coveted, but some people, like Wine Director Victoria O’Bryan of San Diego’s Addison, suggest younger bottlings for a purer apple flavor.

“It’s a nice way to complete an evening because it’s not overly complex,” she says.

Get a Taste

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Calvados is great in cocktails, too, says Ravy Tray, head bartender at The Library Bar at The Rittenhouse in Philadelphia, where he’s been known to muddle it with lemon juice, apples and rosemary.

And though its prominent apple flavor makes Calvados easy to liken to autumn, it should be embraced year-round, says Matt Corbin, beverage director of Colorado’s 7908 Aspen.

“If you have a great cocktail, you don’t have to stick to a certain time,” he says.