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What Is Calvados?

Serge Desfrieches son shoveling apples that will be made into Calvados
Fabrice Desfrieches preps apples in the
early stages of calvados production.

Calvados is a pear and apple-based brandy from the northern part of France along the English Channel in the Normandy region. With a history dating back nearly 500 years, the region has a long tradition of distilling their ciders into delicious and complex spirits. While not as well known as cognac or armagnac, calvados holds a dear place in the hearts of many spirits lovers.

To create calvados, apples and pears are collected from the ground during the autumn and pressed into juice. The unclarified juice is then fermented into a cider with between 6% and 8% alcohol. This cider is then passed through a still, where a 70% alcohol will eventually emerge. This clear spirit then goes into barrel, where it picks up color and additional aromas and flavors. It can be sold after its third birthday but is often aged for much longer.

Tasting Calvados

Charles Neal with glass of Calvados
Just about anytime is good for a glass of calvados.

Calvados has traditionally been drunk after a meal, partially because of its digestive qualities. And while it is highly enjoyable to have a snifter after a meal (perhaps in another room and in a comfortable chair), calvados can be enjoyed under many different circumstances. Popular nowadays are cocktails made with calvados, while the spirit is also used in many culinary preparations. What's more, a glass of calvados is fantastic in everyday situations, like while watching a DVD, Monday Night Football, or working on the computer at night.

Calvados Appellations

There are three appellations in Calvados: Calvados Pays d'Auge Controlee, Appellation Calvados Controlee, Appellation Calvados Domfrontais Controlee

Calvados Pays d'Auge Controlee

The Pays d' Auge was established in 1942. Apples dominate in the Pays d' Auge, and most calvados in the region is made with only apples. Calvados from the Pays d' Auge must be distilled twice, a process that sets it apart from the other appellations.

Appellation Calvados Controlee

At one point, the expansive area now known as Appellation Calvados Controlee was divided into regulated regions, spread all across Normandy and spilling across the borders of several neighboring departments. These regulated regions were grouped together in the 1980s. The soils vary widely from region to region. Most producers use only apples in their cider and the majority distill their cider once in a column still.

Appellation Calvados Domfrontais Controlee

This appellation, established in 1997, surrounds the town of Domfront in the Orne, from which it takes its name. Using at least 30% pears in their distillate is obligatory in the Domfrontais, although it is common for some producers to use 70% or 80% in their ciders. Distillation takes place once in a column still as is done in Appellation Calvados Controlee.

Domfrontais sunset in the Calvados region of Normandy, France
Sunset in the Domfrontais.

Calvados Producers

Calvados Video

Calvados: The Spirit of Normandy

Cover to the book Calvados: The Spirit of Normandy by Charles Neal

Calvados is an astounding 700-page stroll through the history and culture of Normandy and Calvados producers, through orchards and cellars, down to seemingly esoteric details, like what a producer might have scribbled in chalk on a typical barrel.
— Eric Asimov, New York Times

Neal explains the varieties of apples (or pears) used, how the fruit is picked, made into cider, and then distilled and aged. But more importantly, how to taste and appreciate this unique spirit.
— S. Irene Virbila, Los Angeles Times essential reference on an underappreciated topic.
— Jon Bonné, San Francisco Chronicle

Buy Calvados: The Spirit of Normandy by Charles Neal at Barnes and Noble

Also by Charles Neal:

Armagnac: The Definitive Guide to France's Premier Brandy

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