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Calvados doesn't get the love it deserves
On the world's most sustainable spirit (probably)
Calvados doesn’t get the love it deserves — although that does mean you can get superb bottles for much less than an equivalently-good bottle of something else would cost.
Just a few minutes of clicking about yielded this 30-year-old bottle for under £150 where a similar vintage Scotch could easily go for more like £400. Anyway, I digress...
For too long the producers of le calva let the category stagnate. Just one example: because of what it’s made from (apples) and how it’s made, it is perhaps the most sustainable spirit on the planet.
One brand, Avallen, has calculated that each bottle they make equates to removing 2.73kg of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
This is nothing new. It’s just how Calvados is. But did the traditional producers tell anyone about it? As the French might say: bof.
I wrote about the young producers who are changing all that for Club Oenologique. Avallen is just one such. I also spoke to 30et40 and Maison Sassy. Give it a read.
I know of at least two distilleries here in the UK quietly maturing some barrels of their own calvados. I'm sure there will be others. This leads to the thorny question of what to call the stuff when it's made here in the UK.
You can’t call it Calvados because that’s a protected term with an EU PGI to back it up. OK, maybe you could after Brexit, but why be a dick about it? And ‘apple brandy’ sounds a bit... meh. So what’s left?
One of the producers tells me ‘cider spirit’ is the term suggested by the fine folk at trading standards. Hmm.
There’s a parallel with Burnt Faith who’ve recently set up to make brandy in London. It’s essentially Cognac, made on a proper Charentais still, but of course you can’t call it Cognac; same issue as Calvados. My suggestion would be non-gnac. (It’s a joke best delivered orally, doesn’t work so well written down.) More on Burnt Faith soon. I will be paying them a visit next week.
Mix it up: Calvados cocktails
Calvados is superb in cocktails. The younger, fruitier examples are super-refreshing in long drinks, mixed with apple juice and/or ginger ale, but if like me you prefer your cocktails a bit punchier then try this on for style:
30ml Calvados (a good VS will work here or try Avallen)
30ml rye whiskey
5ml sugar syrup
4 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
1 dash Angostura bitters
It’s very simple to make. Rinse a cold glass with absinthe. Stir everything else over ice in a mixing glass then pour it into your rinsed glass. That’s it.
I have yet to try for myself, but I have a sneaking suspicion this might be good if you swapped out the rye for Armagnac. Cognac might be a touch too smooth. Anyway, fun experiments for someone to try.
A few quick Calvados facts
There are three separate AOCs that control Calvados: there’s the obvious one plus Calvados Pays d’Auge and Calvados Domfrontais
Calvados is made from apples, but also pears. Calvados Pays d’Auge can have up to 30% pears. Calvados Domfrontais must have at least 30% pears.
Calvados must be aged for at least two years in French oak casks, or at least three years for Calvados Domfrontais
There are also rules about the stills used, and the maximum distillation strength, which differ slightly by AOC
Calvados has a lot of age statements and they can be very confusing, but these at leasts are shared by all three calvados AOCs.
After at least two years you can put one of these on the label: VS; trois étoiles; trois pommes. Yes, I know it’s two years and trois means three. Yes, it’s confusing. I told you so. Take it up with the French.
After three years you can use vieux and réserve.
After four, choose from VO, VSOP, or vieille réserve.
Five years get you nothing.
Six years has a whole bunch: XO, hors d’age, très vieille rèserve, très vieux, extra, and Napoléon.
If the bottle has an age statement, such as 15 years, that must reflect the youngest spirit used in the blend — which is the same rule as for whisky and many other spirits.
If there’s a vintage on the label, everything on the bottle must come from that same year.
See here for more Calvados info