The Other French Beverage | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

The Other French Beverage

The Other French Beverage

Calvados in Glass (right) | Courtesy of inazakira, used under CC 2.0

In Normandy, It's Calvados, Not Wine

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A few years ago, on an unseasonable cold Parisian evening, I found myself sitting at an outdoor café, with a large snifter of calvados.  As I slowly sipped the snifter’s contents, I found that it was just the perfect beverage to provide that special bit of warmth to fight off the cold evening airs. With Succot falling in late October this year—which in New York means it could get chilly—I am planning to pick up a bottle of that same delightful type of liquor to enjoy in my succah.

Calvados is a distilled apple cider, produced in Normandy, which has a history that dates back to Charlemagne, the Eighth Century King of the Franks and Holy Roman Emperor.  One of Charlemagne’s lesser known acts was an ordinance requiring all the farms in Normandy grow apples. In the nearly 1300 years since Charlemagne’s reign, Normandy has been conquered and re-conquered many times—by the Vikings, the French, the English, and the Germans—and through it all, Normandy has had it apples. Lots and lots of apples. By the sixteenth century, some of Normandy’s more industrious farmers were distilling the juice of their excess apples, and thus calvados, that most delightful of apple liquors, was born.

Calvados is often distilled from a cider that contains a blend of dozens of different apple varieties, and which is often aged for up to a year before distillation. The distillate is then aged in oak barrels for no less than two years, but often for much longer. Typically, calvados is lightly sweet, and has flavors and aromas redolent of apples, with other fruits and spices. When bottled young, calvados can be as fiery as a young whiskey, but when well-aged it can be as smooth and supple as a fine cognac.

Below are tasting notes for a handful of different calvados bottlings, all of which would making a delightful and warming addition to your succah.

Boulard Calvados, XO, Pays d’Auge: This is a rich, smooth, sweet, full-bodied, burnt-copper colored blend of twice-distilled apple brandies aged between eight and forty years. This calvados has a subtle nose of fresh apples, quince, and citrus with notes of orange blossoms, nutmeg, and allspice. Look flavors of apples and citrus on the palate, turning to quince and raisins, and a long caramel-like finish with just a hint of star-anise.  Score A ($94.95 Available at Bottles and Cases, 99 East Main St, Huntington, NY, 631- 423-9463)

Busnel Calvados Vieille Reserve, VSOP, Pays d’Auge: Bronze colored, this sweet, twice-distilled calvados has a bouquet of baked apples with cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom. Look for flavors of baked apples, cinnamon and wild-flower honey, with hints of citrus, nutmeg and dark chocolate. Although clearly aged, this calvados still has a pleasant hint of youthful fire. Score B+ ($39.94.  Available at Garnet Wines & Liquors, 929 Lexington Avenue, Manhattan, 212-772-3212)

Christian Drouin, Coeur de Lion, Calvados, VSOP, Pays d’Auge: Bronze in color with a subtle nose of apples, heather, vanilla, and oak, this rather pleasant calvados has flavors of apples, lemons, and quince, with a nice bit of black pepper and spice on the finish. Score B+ ($49.99 Available at Crossroads Wine & Spirits, 52 West 14th St, Manhattan, 212-924-9463)

Boulard Calvados, Grand Solage, Pays d’Auge: Dark-copper in color, and just a bit fiery, this blend of two to five year old calvados has flavors and aromas of fresh apples, lemons, and nutmeg, with notes of apple blossoms and cardamom, and a pleasant hint of astringency on the finish. Score B/B+ ($43.34.  Available at Garnet Wines & Liquors, 929 Lexington Avenue, Manhattan, 212-772-3212)

Calvados Coquerel, Fine: This dark amber colored, three-year-old calvados has a nose of ripe fresh tart apples, with a floral undertone and a slight whiff of something a bit acrid in the background. Look for a flavor dominated by fresh tart apples, with notes of pears, vanilla, and allspice. Fiery and young, and perhaps a better choice for cocktails than sipping, this would be a good and inexpensive introduction to the world of calvados.  Score B ($16.59 for a half-sized bottle. Available at Corx Wine & Liquors, 1205 Mamaroneck Ave, White Plains, 914- 468-6139)

Should one find oneself in the succah on a particularly cold night, consider using a bit of calvados to make an apple hot toddy. The following recipe is adapted from the world’s first cocktail guide, Jerry Thomas’s 1862 book, How to Mix Drinks or the Bon Vivant’s Companion. While Thomas’s recipe calls for white sugar as the sweetening agent, I prefer my toddies to be sweetened with honey, and in particular I like to use a rich varietal honey such as heather honey or thistle honey.

Apple Hot Toddy:

  • ¼ cup calvados
  • 1 to 2 tsp. honey
  • 1 apple
  • ½ cup boiling water
  • Nutmeg

Core a roma, cortland, wine sap, or golden delicious apple and bake it in a shallow baking dish at 375F for about 30 minutes. Quarter the apple and place one quarter into the glass along with the honey and calvados. Add the boiling water and stir until the honey is dissolved. Then grate a little nutmeg on top.

Cheers and Chag Sameach

Note on Kashrut: There are many differing opinions regarding the kashrut of calvados.  While some kashrut authorities consider all calvados to be kosher, others only consider certain brands to be kosher, and others still require formal kosher certification. When asked for comment, Rabbi Zvi Holland of Star-K Kosher Certification said “for calvados we defer to European kashrut authorities.” 

If seeking calvados which is produced with kosher certification there are two readily available brands: Calvados Coquerel, which recently became certified by the OU; and Calvados Boulard which is officially considered kosher without certification by the Kashruth Authority of the London Beth Din (KLBD), by the Grand Rabbinat du Bas Rhin Beth Din de Strasbourg, and by the Consistoire de Paris. 

Calvados is scored on an ‘A’-‘F’ scale where ‘A’ is excellent, ‘B’ is good, ‘C’ is flawed, ‘D’ is very flawed, and ‘F’ is undrinkable. Prices listed reflect the price at the retailer mentioned.

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