A dry Brandy made from apples, named after the Calvados region of Normandy, France, where this style of Brandy was originally developed. Normandy is filled with orchards planted with apple trees and throughout history the apple has been a pillar in the economic and cultural welfare of Normandy. Cider and calvados have traditionally been produced on the farm in Normandy since the Middle Ages.
While brandy can made anywhere in the world the apple brandy Calvados can only be produced in this special region of France. Many factors help set it apart from other brandy and it all starts with the soil, climate and agricultural heritage, of the people of Normandy.
Calvados received Appellation d'Origine status in 1942 and today three different appellations exist for Calvados and one for Pommeau. Each appellation has unique and distinguishing characteristics, which concern the geographical area and the distillation process. The geographical production areas are strictly defined and all operations that result in the production of calvados and Pommeau are carried out within these zones.
AOC Calvados - In short apples from the Calvados region made a single, continuous distillation process using a column still.
AOC Calvados Pays d'Auge - The most controlled and perceived highest quality. In short apples from the Pays d’Auge distilled in a copper double still.
AOC Calvados Domfrontais - Made of at least 30% pears in the Domfrontais region with a single, continuous distillation process using a column still.
Pommeau - A sweet harmonious blend of two-thirds apple juice and one-third calvados aged in oak produced for centuries by Norman farmers. Pommeau de Normandie was officially recognised and protected gaining its own Appellation d’Origine Controlee in 1991.
Fermier Calvados - Some producers live up to another quality control the production fermiere or produit fermier, which indicates that the calvados is farm made in the traditional way. The whole process from apple to calvados is carried out on the farm according to the highest quality demands.
It all starts with the right apple not just any apple and certainly not eating apples. Instead small fruits with great aromatic intensity are used. Generally sweet varieties of pear are chosen. For the making of calvados, hundreds of varieties of apple can be used. Traditional producers grow 20 to 40 varieties. The various varieties ensure the production of a juice containing the necessary sugar, tannins and acidity. Traditionally the harvest was carried out by shaking the branches of high stem trees. The apples would fall onto tarpaulins spread out below the trees where they are gathered by hand and placed in sacks. Apples to be used for calvados would be stored on the floor, piled to a height of about 70 centimetres.
There are three different periods of ripening early season apples, which ripen in September, mid season apples ripening from October to mid-November and late-season apples, which are harvested in December and generally stored until January. The mid and later season apples are used for the production of Calvados early season apples would have to be mashed early when temperatures are still too high for the production of good cider. The apples used must all be equally ripe when the crusher transforms the apples into a homogeneous pulp. The pulp is left to work for a few hours allowing the apples to soften, making it easier to extract the juice tannins and aromas once the pulp is conveyed to a hydraulic batch press, which extracts the juice by squeezing. Most of the flavour is extracted from the skin and not from the pulp. Compared with cider for drinking cider for distillation is fermented until crisp dry. The fermentation takes place in large oak barrels. The cider ferments for anything from 6 weeks to a year depending on the producer and then can be aged for a further year before distillation.
Early European distillation was primitive and shrouded in mystery. Apothecaries and monasteries sold alcohol not as a beverage but as a medicine, “aqua vitae” or “eau de vie” a cure for anything or a life-span enhancing elixir. Before 1942 Calvados was still widely called “eau de vie de Calvados.” Many wood-fired stills are still used today although gas-fired stills require less attention. From the home made to the high-tech the variety and individual characteristics of different stills contribute to the individuality of what they produce. In general the flavour of calvados distilled in double distillation is more complex compared to that distilled in a continuous still. AOC Calvados Pays d’Auge is distilled twice the first distillation of cider yields an intermediate product with strength of about 30%. This product is distilled again. The liquid produced is not called calvados but “eau de vie de cider” and is colourless with strength in the region of 70%.
The producers of Calvados have agreed to age the spirit for a minimum of two years or three years for Calvados Domfrontais and then test it before the spirit is sold as Calvados. Much is aged for a great deal longer and some is aged for between 20 and possibly 60 years. The Calvados extracts various substances from the wood, including tannins that give it colour and body. Its bouquet intensifies and its colour changes from golden to deeper and deeper shades of amber. On contact with oxygen, the wood compounds dissolved in the spirit and undergo chemical transformations producing new aromas. Often former sherry and port casks are used. This helps yield fewer bitter tannins and helps to give finer colour, more body and greater aromatic richness.
In the cask, the 1-3% of the Calvados evaporates through pores of the wood, which is known as the "Angels Share". In other words, Angels who are fond of Calvados sip the sacred beverage while no one is looking.
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