Norman conquerors

25 July, 2018

The debate rages as to whether sherry or rum will fire the imagination of bartenders in the coming months. but, says Dominic Roskrow, don’t write off calvados – it’s making its mark


IT’S MID-MORNING, we’re deep in the heart of Normandy, standing in a deserted bar, and we’re having our first drink of the day – an apple gin.

Yes, you read that right. The gin we’re drinking is made from a base spirit created from apple, and it’s a revelation combing the citrus and juniper notes of the gin botanicals, with the tart and sharp flavours of the apple.

“We regularly have bartenders here and they always want to talk about gin,” says our host, Guillaume Drouin. “I thought I ought to make one so we had something to talk to them about too.”

The point here isn’t that it’s possible to make gin with apples – we’re in Normandy and when it comes to alcohol, what a Norman can’t do with an apple isn’t worth doing. On this visit we taste pommeau, which is partially fermented apple juice mixed with apple brandy; beer that has been mixed with calvados; and, of course, the region’s renowned fine cider and calvados itself.

No, the point here is that the leading mixologists are flocking to the calvados region to seek out quality calvados.

It’s a mystery why apple brandy isn’t more popular, and why calvados isn’t generally celebrated as the finest example of the style.

It may be, though, that it exposes a division within France itself. While the elitist regions of Champagne and Cognac, and the famous wine-producing regions of France, have successfully convinced the world that France is a Mediterranean and sun-drenched country producing the world’s finest grapes, the northern part of the country has fared less well.

Normandy and Brittany are poorer, more rural and rustic. There are regions made up of extensive farmland, of weather-beaten seaside resorts, and

of pretty towns. They are regions tinged with sadness and with a raw history. This is the stage for countless wars, including the two great wars of the 20th century, and their fields are the final resting place of thousands of young men.


But there is a nobility here, too. The Norman legacy in Normandy is one of stylish buildings and impressive churches, abbeys and cathedrals. The coastline boasts open, sprawling beaches and quaint fishing villages, and history beckons at every turn. Brittany’s Celtic connections have left a legacy of great food and drink. And in these regions you will find world-class beer, whisky, cider and, from selected regions of Normandy, calvados, an apple brandy widely regarded by those in the know as the finest in the world.

Traditionally, though, calvados has been stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand too rustic to appeal to upmarket restaurants and hotels, being based on the common old farmyard apple and not the noble grape; and on the other too traditional and old fashioned for the fashionable style bars and influential trendsetters.

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