Definition and production

Summary :

A quintessential Norman eau de vie, calvados is exported all over the world In France, calvados is well on the way to winning over a new generation of interested and demanding consumers, thanks to the audacity of some producers and négociants-éleveurs (merchant-producers) in the region.

  • Une fois récoltés, les fruits sont stockés dans des greniers © Drouin
  • Pressage des pommes © Drouin
  • Séjour de 2 à 3 ans en fût ou foudre de chêne © Drouin
  • Calvados millésimés © Drouin
  • Calvados Connection © N. Sikorski

Definition

A French eau de vie produced in Normandy which is distilled from cider or perry and which has been aged for a minimum of two or three years. Calvados has a minimum alcohol content of 40% ABV. There are three calvados appellations: Pays d’Auge, Calvados and Domfrontais.

Calvados – step-by-step

Step 1 - From apple to cider

Harvesting begins at the end of September and ends in December. Once harvested, the apples are stored in barns, in box pallets (crates that hold about 300kg) or even on the ground, for ripening. The apples and pears, when ripe, are crushed and then pressed. In order to extract maximum sugar and tannins, a last stage called ‘rémiage’ can be carried out which involves soaking the skins and pulp in water and pressing them again. Nowadays this technique is only used by the largest cider producers. Fermentation of the apple juice is a natural and spontaneous process and the use of additives is prohibited. Fermentation takes place in vats for a period of 28 to 42 days, depending on the AOC certification. At the end of this period, the ciders that are to be distilled will have an alcohol content of between 5 and 7%. Some producers distil their entire cider production in winter and spring; this is called ‘fresh’ cider. Others keep a part aside until autumn and distil a ‘mature’ cider. The former is fresh and smooth while the latter is more developed and racy.



Step 2 - From cider to eau de vie

The distillation period is from the 1st July until 30th June the following year. The AOC allows for two distillation methods.

The ‘traditional’ double distillation pot still

The double distillation pot still, which is obligatory for the distillation of Calvados Pays D’Auge, has three elements:

  • a copper pot still where the cider is brought to the boil;
  • an intermediary vat called the <i>chauffe cidre</i> (cider heater);
  • a condenser: a copper coil immersed in iced water, which cools down and liquefies the vapours.

The tails are discarded after the first distillation, leaving the <i>brouillis</i> or the <i>petites eaux</i> (low wines), with an alcohol content of 28 - 30% ABV. During the second distillation, the heads and tails are discarded in order to collect only the heart, or <i>bonne chauffe</i>, at 70% ABV.


The ‘modern’ column still

The column still is to Domfrontais what the pot still is to Pays d’Auge: an essential item. It also has three elements:

  • the boiler or cider heater;
  • a ‘stripping’ column, made up of about 15 trays through which the cider and vapours circulate in opposite directions, to allow the aromas to enrich the vapour;
  • a condensation column. Three taps allow the separation of the distillate heads and tails, and the separate the heart.


Step 3 - From eau de vie to calvados

As required by the appellation, calvados ages for two to three years in oak casks of varying sizes. Ageing can be carried out in new casks, as well as in previously used casks which may or may not have been refreshed with cider. The casks may also have been used for other types of alcohol (wines, rum, sherry, etc.). The use of new wood is rare but it may sometimes be used initially to provide the required amount of tannins and aromas, before being transferred to a used cask (200 to 600 litres) for several years. 1000 to 10,000 litre large casks can still be used. These are used for ageing the young eaux de vies as well as storage them.