Established in 2021 by Avallen and the Difford’s Guide, World Calvados Day, today October 20th, is once again celebrating Normandy’s famous apple brandy and falls on the eve of National Apple Day. It also comes hot on the heals of National Calvados Week (October 10th to 16th) which is now in its tenth year.
Normandy has nearly 300 distilleries and micro-distilleries. Calvados is made from tart and bitter French apple varieties like ‘Rouge Duret’, ‘Rambault’, ‘Mettais’, ‘Saint Martin’ and ‘Frequin’.
Its history dates back to 1553, when the drink was known as cidre eau-de-vie. The name calvados was introduced in the late 1700s, when France was divided into departments, and it is now known as one of the Three Noble French Eaux de Vie (cognac and armagnac being the others).
Normandy’s guild of cider distillers goes back to 1606. During the phylloxera outbreak in the late nineteenth century, apple brandy experienced its golden age. But during the First World War, Calvados was being was requisitioned to make explosives for the armament industry due to its alcohol content. Calvados gained protected appellation controlee status in 1942.
But the UK hasn’t taken to “The Norman Hole” at all. “Le trou Normand” is a small drink of calvados taken between courses to reawaken the appetite. Thus, Calvados Week.
The annual Calvados time of year, based around the harvest, aims to educate us about Norman holes and tarts with worldwide cocktail events, tastings and bar takeovers. The organizers hope to teach us that the longer Calvados is aged, the more the taste resembles that of any other aged brandy. As it ages, it becomes golden or darker.
Soho Whisky Club offered its members ‘Calvados and Tonic’ as part of National Calvados Week, served, aptly, with a slice of apple. A club spokesperson commented:
“Calvados is a fantastic gateway to other spirits and Calvados and Tonic is a great way to start any evening; it is light, refreshing – but unfortunately somewhat moreish. In the past we have done Pere Magliore Calvados pairings with lighter styles of Cuban Cigars; these have always been popular with the members of Soho Whisky Club. It offers a point of difference for a discerning whisky drinker, who soon appreciates the complexity of this traditional staple from our French neighbours over in Normandy.”
Tim Etherington-Judge and Stephanie Jordan founded Avallen Spirits in May 2019, making their spirit from pesticide-free apple orchards in Normandy. A bee positive company, they donate to the Bumble Bee Conservation Trust with every bottle of Avallen Cavaldos sold in the UK and have pledged to plant 10,000 flowering plants in their first three years of business to help pollinator populations.
Jordan believes the category has plenty of opportunity to pique consumer interest in the years ahead.
“Brandy responds to sustainability credentials, clear geography and provenance that citizens are now increasingly looking for. I’m excited by the future of brandy. I expect the category to see growth and develop with more varieties of base fruits used to create fresher, vibrant, more mixable liquids.”
Maison SASSY has just produced its first Calvados. The Xavier family’s cider-making business goes back to 1852. They make 10,000 litres of cider a day, using twelve varieties of pear in their poire, eighteen apple varieties in their cidre rose and twenty-two in their Brut.
Alexander Darley says:
“At SASSY we would like to modernise the Calvados category much like we are with cider. Calvados is a beautiful place, a delicious product and deserves far more praise, so we are here to bring it to a new audience. Try it with tonic, in an espresso martini or a Psycho cocktail or poured over pear sorbet. It is perfect in a hole!”
Kevin Pilley is a former professional cricketer and chief staff writer of PUNCH magazine. His humour, travel, food and drink work appears worldwide and he has been published in over 800 titles.
Photograph courtesy of Avallen Spirits