By Paul Barry | Assistant Buyer: Beer & Spirits
Distillation is an ancient process dating back at least as far as the Greek alchemists of the 1st century. Cider making has perhaps an even longer history. Fermenting fruit to produce an alcoholic drink pre-dates any written history. The first recorded reference specific to cider dates to Julius Caesar’s conquest of Britain, where they found Britons already enjoying the drink.
It is perhaps surprising then, that it was not until 1553 that an enterprising Frenchman, Gilles Picot, experimented by distilling some of his cider. The Eau de vie that he produced is the first recorded instance of what is now known as calvados.
The Calvados region is located in Normandy which is too far north to grow grapes for wine or grape based brandy like Cognac and Armagnac. However, it is perfect location for apple orchards. Calvados is governed by the Appellation d'origine controlee system of provenance. Outside of this region it is known simply as apple brandy.
Where ever it is made, the quality of the spirit is down to the quality of the cider distilled and the length of time it spends aging in barrel. The quality of the cider depends on the type of soil, the way the fruit is pressed and of course the technique and skill of the cider maker.
Once distilled apple brandy can be aged for anything up to 30 years in oak barrels. Less aged apple brandy is notable by its fresh apple and pear aromas. The longer it is aged in barrel the darker it becomes and the more apparent the oak influence becomes with vanilla, nut and even chocolate notes can be displayed.
Traditionally apple brandy would be consumed neat but can be used to make some fantastic cocktails where the bright apple notes work well with other ingredients. It can also add a twist to traditional cocktails and works great with Hot toddies and Old Fashioneds.
Chateau du Breuil Fine Calvados is a classic of the style aged for two years in oak to mellow out the fruit notes. Thanks to one Cork family you can now get Irish apple brandy as well. Longueville Apple Brandy is a distillation of the delicious Longueville House Cider. Rich smooth and full bodied after its four years aging in oak barrels.