Norman conquerors

25 July, 2018

That, though, is changing, as Drouin’s comments above show. It’s not by chance that two of three of the finalists in the gin competition held by Number 3 gin at Berry Bros & Rudd in London included calvados in their drinks. Nor that one of London’s most stylish and up-and-coming bars, Coupette, puts calvados cocktails at the very heart of its cocktail offerings.

Add to that the fact that it’s appearing in its own right across the world, and as a much-cherished ingredient in modern cocktails. Kyoto alone has more than 250 bars stocking it, and famed restaurant Nokka in Helsinki stocks scores of different varieties. New calvados embassies are opening across the world. Indeed, official calvados IDAC figures show that in 2017 57% of the 6m bottles of calvados sold were exported, with the US, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, Japan and Russia the leading markets.

We’re at family distillery Calvados Christian Drouin because it is at the forefront of the changing mood of calvados, but there are countless other places we could have gone. What they share in common is the way they are adapting to demands from the modern bar and restaurant trade.

Sales have been going so well for the Christian Drouin distillery that it has had to expand rapidly. It renovated two cellars at its farm in Gonneville-sur-Honfleur in 2012 and 2015, and storage space was added at the distillery site in 2013. A cider plant was added in the middle of the orchards in 2013. This year more offices were being added.

As bar staff and restaurateurs seek out products with provenance and heritage, the spirit is being better understood. In fact, there are three distinct styles of calvados, each produced in different parts of the region.

The production of the style known as Calvados Pays D’Auge has a great deal in common with that of single malt whisky. Local producers know all about distilling fermented apple juice twice, removing the first and last parts of the run during the second distillation. And they have a long history and understanding of ageing the spirit in oak casks. Nor is it by chance that all the apples produced in the region fall into one or four categories – bitter, bitter sweet, sweet and sharp.

Even the orchards have been geared for perfect cider and calvados production. Calvados apple trees have long trunks, so there is space underneath the branches for cattle to graze. The cows fertilise the land, but they have another role, too. They like to eat apples, and know how to shake the branches to make apples fall.

But over the summer months the apples that fall first are the rotten ones, so the cows help the producers separate out bad apples. And then, on September 10, the cows are moved on and the first harvest begins.

Maturation takes place in oak barrels that vary in size. At Christian Drouin, mainly small casks are used, and the evaporation rate – the angel’s share – is about 4% a year, twice the Normandy average, and about twice that of Scotland, too. Calvados may be aged for many years, and Christian Drouin has spirit that has been aged for 70 years.

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