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Fun With Calvados

Harvested apples, waiting to be turned into Calvados at the Roger Groult distillery. (Jean-Roger Groult)

In my column today, I once again recommend trying Calvados as a cocktail ingredient this fall, both in drinks like the Jack Rose or Apple Brandy Old-Fashioned and also as the perfect after-dinner sipper.

Calvados, for those who didn't catch my column on apple spirits last year, is a brandy produced from apples in Normandy. It is governed by an AOC, the French quality standard for agricultural products from particular geographical areas. Within the broad Calvados AOC, however, there is an appellation called Pays d'Auge that is considered to produce the very best quality. Calvados is made from predominantly bitter and bittersweet cider (not eating) apple varieties that are native to Normandy, and all of it must be aged at least two years. In Pays d'Auge, the rules are a bit stricter, and all of the spirit from there must be double distilled in an alembic pot still from cider that has fermented for at least six weeks.

A lineup of vintages in the tasting room at Christian Drouin Coeur de Lion. (Jason Wilson)

All of the producers I visited on my recent trip were based in Pays d'Auge. Good Calvados, like good cognac and good Scotch, can be expensive, and the most expensive comes from Pays d'Auge. Fine Calvados can be a blend of different vintages and ages, or it can be bottled as a single vintage.

Christian Drouin Coeur de Lion
is often listed simply as "Coeur de Lion" in online listings. Coeur de Lion Hors D'Age, a blend of 15-year-old spirits, is a sort of gold standard for me when it comes to blending. With 15 years of aging, nearly half of the alcohol in the cask has evaporated, concentrating the fruit. But it ain't cheap, usually retailing for over $100. Ace Beverage has another of Drouin's 15-year-old bottlings, the Alchemist, at $93. During my visit to Drouin, I also got to taste about a dozen of its best vintages, including the classic 1973 and the prized 1963 with its complex of forest, mushroom and apple pie ("a whole meal in a glass," says Guillaume Drouin). And perhaps the rarest Calvados in the world, Drouin's 1939 vintage: the only Calvados that's certified before World War II, when most of Normandy's cellars were destroyed or pillaged during the Nazi occupation.

Casks aging at Roger Groult. (Jean-Roger Groult)

Age isn't always the deciding factor in a good Calvados, however. At Roger Groult, I very much enjoyed the 8-year-old (a true value at about $55) over the 15-year-old ($70), and I would highly recommend it. I realize that even $55 sounds expensive compared with what I would normally suggest, but consider that you'll be sipping this after dinner, and it will last awhile. For those with the means, Roger Groult's 30-year-old Doyen d'Age, which sells for over $200, is pretty much one of the finest spirits I've ever tasted.

Last year, I recommended Domaine Dupont's Fine Reserve, imported by Washington-based Robert Kacher Selections, as a nice place for those interested to start at $40. Aged a minimum of three years, it's nice in cocktails and for sipping. From there, the 8-year-old Family Reserve is about $50, and the Hors d'Age is $60. All are available in the District.

If you're looking for a splurge that will pay for itself, I cannot recommend the spirits from these three distillers highly enough. I would put them up against the some of the best offerings from Cognac or Scotland.

-- Jason Wilson

By The Food Section  |  September 23, 2009; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Spirits  | Tags: Calvados, Jason Wilson, Spirits  
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It was not unusual for Georges Simenon's Inspector Maigret to enjoy a Calvados at his favorite Paris bistro at 10 AM. Indeed, the chief inspector seemed to enjoy a Calvados at every opportunity. I learned to appreciate the apple aroma of a Calvados from my father even though I was often greeted with puzzled looks for my American friends whenever I requested it here.

But one of my most memorable moments was a visit to friends in La-Tour-de-Peilz near Vevey, Switzerland. We paid a short visit around 11 AM; and our hostess invited us to an aperitif in front of the house on some garden chairs. By chance, the postman was just making his morning rounds. Our hostess invited him to join us for the aperitif. What a wonderful time to enjoy a Calvados! The poor postal carrier probably would have lost his job had this happened in America; but as I remember the moment, it was a wonderful time to celebrate with the Calvados.

Posted by: PetrusTurner | September 23, 2009 9:04 PM | Report abuse

For several years, I have had an apple tart recipe that calls for Calvados. I have never made it because I have never seen Calvados for sale in any store. Obviously, I would not want to pay a huge amount for a baking ingredient. Is there a local source of reasonably priced Calvados?

Posted by: margaret6 | September 24, 2009 1:17 PM | Report abuse

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