Apples, Distilled | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

Apples, Distilled

Apples, Distilled

In Praise of Calvados, an Apple-Based Fall Drink

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I find that the High Holidays apples-and-honey motif that kids (and grown-ups) love always brings my thoughts to calvados, a fine fall drink, perfect for the Yom Kippur break fast or to sip in your sukkah.

Calvados is basically apple brandy, or distilled hard apple cider, made in the Normandy region of northwest France. Think of it as the working Frenchman’s cognac; though these days, prices are keeping pace with that more luxury-branded, grape-based libation.

Calvados is more often than not semisweet with aromas and flavors of apples and other fruits and spices. A young calvados can be harsh and feisty, like a young whiskey, but, like whiskey, mellows and matures beautifully with barrel aging.

Boulard Calvados is at the premium end of the quality spectrum. Boulard Calvados comes from the famed Pays d’Auge district of Normandy, known for its tradition of quality apples, refinement, and double distillation in alembic pot stills.

A.J. Liebling, the longtime New Yorker journalist and famous fresser (gourmand), declared in his 1962 food memoir, Between Meals, that “calvados … is the best alcohol in the world.” To Liebling, calvados, “the veritable elixir of Eden,” was much better in every respect to cognac, which he considered “precocious and superficial” by comparison, even though “millions of Frenchmen are obtuse enough to prefer cognac.” In his 1958 book Normandy Revisited, Liebling opined that calvados “has a more agreeable bouquet, a warmer touch to the heart, and more outgoing personality than cognac.”

The list and price of available kosher cognacs makes Liebling hard to argue with on this. Suffice it to say that if a glass of cognac is supposed to conjure up images of a visit with French aristocracy, a glass of calvados reminds us that schmoozing with the hired help is likely to be more diverting.

Boulard Calvados VSOP (40 percent abv; $50): this is heady and bittersweet, with hints of almonds, vanilla, allspice, and ginger wrapped in a slightly woody box.

Boulard Calvados XO (40 percent abv; $90): this is a full-bodied, rich, velvety smooth, elegant spirit with aromas and flavors of apples, sweet vanilla, cinnamon, toasted nuts, raisins, allspice, toffee, and tart citrus fruits, with a lovely toasty, oily, and spicy apple cider finish. A bit more spirit-y than apple-y, but absorbing.


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