Reed: “Normandy is home to Calvados, a double distilled, oak aged, apple or pear brandy that is protected and regulated under France’s appellation d’origine controlee (AOC). Pays D’Auge produces some of the highest quality calvados, and a fellow bartender and I wanted to explore the region and further our knowledge by seeing the production firsthand. So, we made appointments at some key distilleries, including at Christian Drouin.
“The farmhouses-style facility is set among the rolling green hills of the region. As Guillaume Drouin, the current owner and grandson of the original owner, gave us a personal tour we learned that even before the family purchased the property in the 1960s calvados had been produced on site. So, they took the juice that was already in barrels and began producing a vintage calvados for all the back vintages, from 1939 to the present, with the exception of the WWII years when the facility instead housed American soldiers.
“In addition to the tour, we also got to taste some amazing vintage calvados—1939, 1969, 1970, 1986, 1982, 1990, and 1995. I splurged on my birth year, 1982. It was aged in Cognac casks and is amazingly delicious.
“AOC calvados has strict oak-aging requirements, and the label indicates how much time the brandy has spent in barrel. Fine or VS has been barrel-aged at least two years, vieux or reserve calvados has been barrel-aged for at least three, VO or VSOP for no fewer than four years, and XO or hors d’aged has been barrel-aged for a minimum of six years.
“Each vintage is finished in a different kind of cask—from late harvest wine casks to former fortified casks, such as those used to make port, madeira, and sherry. While cask aging is common with scotch and rum, I’m not sure anyone was doing it when Drouin started.
“Next we moved on to the amazing grounds of Chateau du Breuil, and then Domaine Dupont. Dupont has a tasting room open to the public, but the distillery doesn’t take appointments. Still, we made the trek, and we got lucky. In the tasting room, our knowledge and questions cued them in that we were in the industry, and the owner ended up giving us a private tour.
“While Domaine Dupont is among the better known calvados and cider producers in the American market, they still have a very small operation. Longtime cattle farmers whose history on the property goes back three centuries, and who made calvados and cider here just for local consumption, the family only began making calvados and cider their primary focus in the 1980s.”
“Our travels also led us to the infamous local cider route, with its producers big and small, as well as home producers. While we had little time to explore, we did stop at one house where a little old woman escorted us to the basement where her calvados and cider were kept. We purchased a bottle each of each, and polished off both that night.
“Calvados has become a personal staple and will be used often on Heartwood menus. In the fall and winter it’s great with ingredients such as ginger, vanilla and cinnamon. In spring and summer I like to lighten it up by mixing in herbaceous liquors such as yellow chartreuse or gran classico, or by using fresh herbs like basil, thyme and rosemary. Calvados is a beautiful base for cocktails, and of course also delicious just to sip on it’s own.”
Here is one of Amanda’s latest concoctions.
Chamomile Honey Syrup
1 cup Acacia Honey
1 cup Warm Water
4 tsp. Loose Leaf Chamomile Tea
Combine ingredients in a container with a tight lid. Shake vigorously until the honey is dissolved. Let the tea steep for 20 minutes. Fine strain to remove tea. Allow syrup to cool before mixing.
2 oz Calvados
½ oz Broadbent 3 Year Rich and Sweet Madeira
½ oz Chamomile Honey Syrup
3 Dashes of Bar Keep Chinese Bitters
Garnish: Lemon Twist
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Stir and strain into a rocks glass over a large ice cube. Garnish with a lemon twist.