SUNDAY DECEMBER 17:
CALVADOS BRANDY APPLE BRANDY PEARS
One of the best kept secrets in the world of elegant brandy is
the spirit called Calvados. It comes from a region in France's Normandy
with the same name. There are some really top distillers in the region and
even your simple farmer down the street probably makes a bit of Calvados.
In our shop, only a few rare birds have a clue about this wonderful
brandy. Most of the requests we get for Calvados are customers
looking to follow a recipe which calls for a cup of Calvados. These
people are shocked that this stuff costs more than ten bucks a
bottle. (We have a really good one for cooking and it's around $29
and has lots of apple character.)
The first references to "Calvados" as the name of some sort of
distilled product dates back into the 1550s. It took them until
1942, though, to grant "Calvados" its own Appellation Contrôllée
status. I've read theories as to the origins of the name..."Calvador"
being the name of a shipwrecked boat off the coast of Normandy is one
suggestion. Another thought is the combination of the Latin "calvus"
for naked or barren with the French word for spine, "dos."
This line of thinking suggests the term was used by sailors for nautical
landmarks along the relatively barren coastline.
- There are three designations of Calvados: "Calvados",
"Calvados Pays d'Auge" and "Calvados Domfrontais" and
their geographical areas of production are strictly defined by the
Institut National des Appellations d'Origine (I.N.A.O.).
Basic Calvados comes from an apple distillate and it's made in a
single distillation using a column still. This appellation
represents nearly three-quarters of the entire production of all Calvados.
Calvados Pays d'Auge comes from clay soils, typically and these are
usually double-distilled in "pot" stills. This
designation, too, is typically entirely made of apples and it accounts for
nearly a quarter of all Calvados. Most artisan distillers have
numerous varieties of apples in their "recipe," citing some
being superior for aromatics, others adding acidity and structure to the
- Calvados Domfrontais hails from granitic soils and many of these
orchards are predominantly pears. The law requires Domfrontais
spirits to be at least 30% pears and there's even an age requirement to a
percentage of the pear trees! Domfrontais Calvados is distilled once
in a column still and it's a mere one percent of the entire Calvados
Double distillation is said to produce subtle, elegant aromas and a
roundness to the eau-de-vie. It's said these spirits age handsomely
and are capable of maturing exceptionally over a 20-25 year period.
The single, column still yields a more exuberantly fragrant spirit and
these spirits, we're told, are superior for youthful, drink-it-young
The first apples of the year tend to ripen starting in September, but
these are usually "eating" apples as opposed to those used for
making cider and spirits. Then there are mid-season apples, ripening
in October and November, with late season fruit being ready in
December. These October-November-December varieties make the best
cider and 'mash' for distilling.
STATEMENTS OF AGE ON THE LABEL
In the case of a blended Calvados, only the age of the youngest Calvados is
- "Three stars"
- This means that the Calvados has matured for a minimum of 2 years in the
- a minimum of 3 years' ageing
- "V.O."-"Vieille Réserve"-"VSOP"
- a minimum of 4 years' ageing
- a minimum of 6 years' ageing.
In France, you may enjoy a Trou Normand, a little shot of Calvados in
between courses at dinner. This is said to aid digestion and provide help
you make room for the next plate. We recently enjoyed this in the form of
an apple cider sorbet doused with a splash of Calvados. Terribly
At the La Couronne restaurant in Rouen we had an apple sorbet
topped with a pour of young Calvados from Adrien Camut.
We also enjoy Calvados as a post prandial potation...it's a nice way to finish a
meal and some older, well-aged Calvados can be exceptional.
have a nice range of Calvados in the shop...from good quality, entry-level
Calvados to deluxe, serious quality, well-aged Calvados for contemplation.
sublime Calvados of the Camut family is found in top restaurants around
France. Their work has been well-known in Europe and it's only
relatively recently that we've had access to them here.
American importer Charles Neal had visited the estate on several
occasions, working on cajoling Papa Camut to sell him some of their
Calvados. This took some doing, since Camut would be obliged to use
different sized bottles for shipments to America, not to mention jumping
through hoops for labeling requirements as well as rigorous lab tests for
the brandy. With their Calvados in demand in easier-to-accommodate
markets, who needs the headache? But Charles finally got them to
allocate some bottles to the U.S. and we've been featuring these ever
Years ago we first visited the property. I sensed the Camut
brothers, Jean Gabriel and Emmanuel, were pleasantly surprised to meet a
few American customers who actually had discerning palates and an interest
in their work.
These fellows, for making such a well known and highly-regarded artisan
brandy, are down-to-earth farmers and distillers. At some
establishments, you meet the proprietors and they have a crew of folks
working for them. As a result, they're a bit disconnected from the
actual production of their wine or spirits. Not these
They know all about the intricate blend of two dozen, or so, varieties of
apples. They know about making and aging the resulting cider and
then distilling it in an old, wood-fired still. They know about
aging the Calvados and they're involved in the bottling and hand-labeling
Jean Gabriel shows off their old press.
A chalkboard had the "recipe," a roster of the 25, or so,
different apples which comprise their cider.
Siphoning a taste of the cider, a work-in-progress. The cider is
aged until September when they start distilling the apple "wine"
from the previous year's harvest.
The wood-fired still at Camut.
Jean-Gabriel and Emmanuel siphoning some Calvados from an old puncheon.
In the cellar, there is a small stash of ancient Calvados...
"Rarete"...this bottle was brought out at 2 in the morning after a
fancy dinner in the city of Rouen. We had parked the car, as directed by
the Camut brothers, only to discover it had been towed by the police! We
spent an hour to bail the vehicle out of the impound lot and then had a drive
"home" where they immediately found some glasses and a bottle of this
ancient Calvados. I think they sell but a handful of bottles annually.
typically have a few bottles of several Calvados in stock.
The 6 year old has more fruity aromas and notes reminiscent a bit of Granny
Smith apples. It's dry and nicely expressive as being
There's a 12 year old bottling...this shows some baked apple character or apple
pie-like fragrances. It's dry on the palate and shows a hint of brown
spice. Nice length, too, as the finish lingers for a while.
The 18 year is quite a "serious" bottle of brandy and a treat for the
connoisseur. Its fragrances are reminiscent of a freshly-baked apple drizzled
with honey and there's a faintly floral aspect to the fragrance.
Impressive and long on the finish.
There's a blend of old Calvados called "Reserve de Semainville."
The young spirit in this blend is 25 years of age...and the older portion is,
perhaps, 30 years of age. The perfume is wonderful and it's the sort of
spirit that one swirls in the glass, savoring each little sniff. Again,
there's some baked apple notes with a pastry crust element, a touch of brown
spice and honey and yet it's dry on the palate and lengthy.
Currently in stock: ADRIEN CAMUT 6 Year CALVADOS
PAYS D'AUGE $84.99
ADRIEN CAMUT 12 Year CALVADOS PAYS D'AUGE $123.99
ADRIEN CAMUT 18 Year CALVADOS PAYS D'AUGE $169.99
ADRIEN CAMUT Reserve de Semainville CALVADOS PAYS D'AUGE $319.99
ADRIEN CAMUT "Prestige" Please inquire as to Pricing and
ADRIEN CAMUT "RARETE" Please Inquire as to Pricing and
- The 5th generation of the Groult family runs this modest Calvados
company. The first distillations were made in the mid-1800s, but
brandy was a small sideline to their livestock business. The second
generation installed a second still and increased the production.
Roger Groult added the company's third still in 1950 and it was he who
really pushed the production in terms of quality (and quality), adding
significant cooperage for aging the brandy.
In 2008, the new generation has assumed the reigns of this company, as
young Jean-Roger has taken over the firm.
They have 30 hectares of orchards and they augment their own "estate
grown" fruit with that of some neighbors.
Bedan, Clos Renaud, Doux Verret de
Carrouges, Noël des Champs, Rouge Duret.
They bring sugar and balance out
Antoinette, Fréquin Rouge, Marie
They are rich in tannins, lend the
cider its colour, body, finish and keeping qualities.
Bisquet, Domaine, Egyptia, Germaine,
Mettais, Moulin à Vent, Petite Sorte, St Martin.
Those apples typical from the Pays
d’Auge combine the qualities of sweet and bitter apples.
Rambault, René Martin, Avrolles.
They bring a fresh taste on the
As with the Camut family, the Groult clan uses wood-fired stills for
their brandy. I don't think, though, that they age the cider quite a
long as do the Camut brothers.
The 8 year old from Groult retains a beautiful perfume of the
fruit. It's easy to spot as "apple brandy." And it's
smooth and rather complex for a young sipping Calvados.
There's a 15 year bottling, as well. There's less overt fruitiness
here and more "nutty" notes associated with well-aged
brandies. The flavors are fairly soft and supple on the palate.
Currently in stock: ROGER GROULT 8 Year CALVADOS $56.99
ROGER GROULT 15 year CALVADOS $72.99
Lemorton family is in the "Domfrontais" region of Calvados and
with more granitic soils, pear trees are more predominant.
The production is small and in a certain way, it mirrors, a bit, the
production of the Camut brothers.
The cider is aged until shortly before the succeeding harvest when it is
They have a smallish alembic still and the spirit starts out
around 140 proof before they knock it down to something more
drinkable. The wood cooperage employed is old and neutral, so you'll
really get a nice sniff of the fruit aromas.
The "Reserve" bottling is the youngest we see...nice
fruit on the nose and a hint of wood spice, but it's very faint. The
spirit is dry and there's a mild "attack" here (in a positive way),
with the eau-de-vie being a good palate cleanser and digestif.
have a 1984 vintage...not that the "vintage" is important, but the age
of the spirit IS.
This has a beautiful fragrance, showing some pear nectar aromas. It's dry
and smooth on the palate, apart from the 'fiery' notes of the alclohol.
The 1978 is phenomenal. It's aged "to
perfection." The aromas are sweet, but not sugary. The flavors
are deep and complex. It's quite smooth and this is tops. No
Currently in stock: LEMORTON "RESERVE"
CALVADOS DOMFRONTAIS $58.99
LEMORTON 1984 CALVADOS DOMFRONTAIS Sale $99.99
LEMORTON 1978 CALVADOS DOMFRONTAIS Sale $149.99
DOMAINE DU MANOIR DE MONTREUIL
modest estate is owned by the Giard family and they've been around for
more than just a few years.
Patrice Giard is the current "master of the Manoir," making good
ciders and Calvados.
The current bottling of Reserve is a blend of barrels from 1999, 2000 and
2001 as we understand it. It's got nice appley fruit aromas and
flavors...not as complex as the older bottlings we're fond of (above), but
it's a good, youthful spirit and well-priced for this quality.
I also found their cider to be quite good, with intense fragrances of the
fruit...we usually have that available in the shop, too, priced around $12
Currently in stock: DOMAINE DE MONTREUIL CALVADOS DU PAYS D'AUGE
Laird family came to the New World in 1698 according to their record
books. One of the Laird sons, it's speculated, was involved in the
distillation business back home in their native Scotland.
Upon their arrival on America's eastern seaboard, they began distilling
apples, as these were plentiful. Another family member establish a
small inn during the 1700s and there are documents showing "cyder
spirits" on the menu, costing what was then roughly half a day's pay.
One Laird was in the army under a fellow named George Washington and he
was instrumental, apparently, in supply "applejack" to the
troops. Washington reportedly asked the family for the recipe so he
could do some "cyder spirit" production of his own.
The Laird family still owns this company, headquartered in New
Jersey but with a distillery in Virginia. Fruit for their
"Applejack" comes from the Shenandoah Valley.
Applejack is different from Calvados. It's 35% apple
brandy blended with some neutral spirit. It's the spirit for the
cocktail called a "Jack Rose," (3 parts Applejack, 2 parts lemon or
lime juice and a few drops of Grenadine...shaken with ice and poured in a
highball glass or martini glass...garnished with a Maraschino cherry).
Laird's does make a full-throttle apple brandy, though. It's a 12 year old
spirit, barrel aged and bottled in small quantities. That's "too
good" for a Jack Rose cocktail.
Currently in stock: LAIRD'S APPLEJACK $18.99
LAIRD'S 12 YEAR OLD APPLE BRANDY Sale $59.99 (750ml)
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