During apple season, our thoughts turn to Calvados

Here is a selection of recommended varieties of Calvados. Krista Slater for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Courtesy of Krista Slater

Credit: Courtesy of Krista Slater

Here is a selection of recommended varieties of Calvados. Krista Slater for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

While autumn seems to be awash in pumpkin spice beverages, our minds turn to apple season, especially in North Georgia, with its multitude of orchards at the base of the Appalachians.

Grown, fermented and distilled in the Brittany region of France, the apple-based brandy Calvados is a cousin of grape-based cognac and armagnac. As consumer interest in brown spirits — and sustainable growing practices — continues to expand, Calvados is starting to get the attention it deserves.

Made in northwestern France for at least 500 years, Calvados is similar to cider, but its makers continue the journey by distilling the cider into a clear spirit that then is ready for some barrel-aging.

There are three AOCs, or appellation control areas, for Calvados, and each has rules governing its production.

The largest, AOC Calvados, makes up about three-quarters of the region. Apples or pears can be used in the base, and either pot stills or column stills are acceptable.

However, AOC Calvados Pays d’Auge must be double-distilled in copper pot stills and use a maximum of 30% pears.

The third AOC is Calvados Domfrontais, located around the city of Domfront. There, a minimum of 30% pears must be used, along with apples, and only column distilling is allowed.

All Calvados must be aged in oak barrels for a minimum of two years, but many rest for much longer. If there is an age statement on your Calvados bottle, that is the minimum age of the blend of brandies included.

There is more about aging and the like, but one thing we found fascinating in our research was the sustainability of this brandy. There are more than 200 types of apples used in Calvados, with most being nearly unpalatable for eating. Those trees are grown two ways: high-stem (standard tall trees that do not need much maintenance) or short-stem (which produce fruit sooner, but require more care and fertilizer).

High-stem production also allows cattle to graze under the trees, providing aeration and fertilizer. Irrigation is prohibited, but the coastal climates provide temperate weather, with plenty of rain.

And then there are the bees. Apple trees are said to produce four times more habitat for pollinators than field crops. Biodiversity and low-intervention farming make Calvados one of the most eco-friendly spirits out there.

Here are three of our favorites, and how we enjoy drinking them:

Coquerel VS. This Calvados uses 40 varieties of apples and rests a minimum of two years. It retains the vibrancy of the fermented cider from which it was distilled. Try this on the rocks with tonic.

Manoir de Montreuil Sélection. From the Pays d’Auge, this 100% apple-based Calvados has hints of white pepper. At 44% alcohol by volume, this is a good one for making cocktails. Try it in a Manhattan or old-fashioned in lieu of the whiskey.

Roger Groult, aged 12 years. Calvados gets more complex and mellow as it ages. Flower and creme brulee notes mix with the essence of apple here. This is one for the brandy snifter, or with a large cube of ice.

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