Calvados might have a name fitting a bullfighter or some Las Vegas show featuring trained horses, but it’s safe to say it tastes infinitely better than either of those.
An apple- or cider-based brandy, Calvados hails from the French region of lower Normandy and dates back more than 500 years. Legend has it that Americans discovered it while driving the Nazis from France in 1944. As they came across abandoned houses, they helped themselves to the occasional mislaid bottle.
According to Lia Giachino, spokesperson for France’s Calvados Boulard Distillery, the same Normans that conquered England in 1066 were the first known makers of Calvados, creating the first batch in 1554.
Over the centuries, Calvados evolved into an after-dinner drink — a digestif enjoyed on its own (chilled or otherwise) – and now, mixed into a variety of craft cocktails. Depending on the vintage, it also serves as a chef’s ingredient in both dinner and dessert recipes.
Creation starts with apples picked in autumn. Pressed into juice and fermented, the concoction is then passed through a still. The end product goes into oak barrels for aging; the length of its barrel stay determines its classification.
If aged for two years, it becomes Fine or V.S, while three years produces Vieux or Reserve. Four years renders V.O or V.S.O.P, and six years counts for the most elite selection – Extra, X.O or Très Vieux.
The taste melds a touch of cider-like sweetness with the warmth of traditional brandy. On its own, Calvados goes down smoothly at room temperature, but the apple taste in the foreground makes it surprisingly refreshing served chilled.
Calvados Boulard is the oldest, still active Calvados distillery, founded in 1825 by Pierre-Auguste Boulard. Its recipe has been passed down throughout the years with fifth generation family member Vincent Boulard.
The distillery’s range includes Extra, Auguste, Hors d’Age 12, X.O., V.S.O.P. and Grand Solage. Finally, Boulard La Cuveé was originally created by Pierre-Auguste Boulard in 1825, based in Coquainvilliers. It blends three- to six-year old Calvados from Pays d’Auge. Their range has won numerous Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals in various international spirits competitions.
Domaine Dupont makes its brand out of the Pays d’Auge region. Dupont’s Calvados grows from its apple-centric agricultural spirits operation, as the distiller also makes a selection of ciders and other apple-based spirits such as Givre, Pommeau and Petillant.
The distiller’s selection of Calvados varieties is a bit overwhelming at first glance, including (deep breath): L’Original (aged 2 years in old oak casks), Calvados Fine Reserve (aged 3 years in oak barrels), Calvados Reserve (4 years), Calvados Plus de 12 ans (12 years) Calvados Plus de 15 and, Calvados Plus de 20, Calvados Plus de 30 ans and Calvados Plus de 40 ans.
Dupont also did special vintages for 1989, 1980 and 1969. Finally, Calvados Plus de 30 ans Non-Réduit (un-reduced), Plus de 40 ans Non-Réduit and Unreduced, Vintage 1977 Non-Réduit. Unreduced are all bottled at cask strength.
The Château du Breuil company produces its fermented cider from its own apples, and that process leads to the creation of its Calvados with the AOC “Pays d’Auge” certification. The latter requires cider apples produced in the Pays d’Auge area and double distillation.
While originally intended as a solo spirit enjoyed on its own, Calvados had centuries to build up a suit of cocktail possibilities. In modern mixology culture, more bartenders and enthusiasts have discovered the brandy’s possibilities, producing scores of inspired recipes.
Grande Pumpkin Spiced Smash
Courtesy of Joshua Perlman, Avec Restaurant, Chicago
- 1 1/2 oz. Calvados V.S.O.P.
- 1/2 oz. Pumpkin pureé
- 3/4 oz. Homemade spices (clove, lemon peel, other)
- 1/2 oz. Lemon juice
- 2 dashes bitters
Preparation: Place all ingredients, including pumpkin pureé, in a shaker. Shake until well blended. Pour into a double old fashioned glass on the rocks.
Courtesy of Antti Kuitunen, The Shaker, Finland
- 1 oz. Calvados V.S.O.P.
- 1/3 oz. Xanté pear liqueur
- 1/2 oz. Homemade ginger syrup
- 2/3 oz. Apple juice
- Juice of half a lime
- Cinnamon, for garnish
- Lime peel, for garnish
Preparation: Pour all ingredients into a Boston shaker. Shake well and strain into an old fashioned glass. Garnish with cinnamon and peel of lime.
Courtesy of Fabien Maillard, Le Lab, Montreal
- Calvados Boulard Grand Solage
- 1 barspoon sugar
- 1 dash orange bitter
- 1 dash old fashioned bitters
- Apple slice, for garnish
Preparation: In an old fashioned glass, pour the sugar. Add bitters and ice. Mix for 20 seconds. Add the Calvados and stir again for 15 seconds. Garnish with a slice of apple.