Origin of the word Calvados
It is said that the name Calvados came from a boat in the invincible Armada of King Philippe II of Spain who, in 1588, left to fight the English and ran aground on the Norman coast. It was called « El Salvador » and following the shipwreck, the inhabitants adopted this name for the place that later transformed into Calvados. But it’s not.
René Lepelley, University of Caen teacher, demonstrated it in 1990 after checking that no boat under that name made wrecked in this area.
He discovered, however, on an old map of 1675, the word Calvados written twice on the ground by the high cliffs of Bessin.
From 17 kilometres, one could see these two elevations, that were in the olden days called dos (from the latin dorsa, donkeys back) covered only by a thin layer of earth on which nothing grew but the odd bush, so they looked from far like a bald head (chauves in French, or calva, in latin). To avoid the rocky bar under water, the sailors would look out for the calvados (pronouced calvado without the final s).
Calvados is recognised as being one of the best apple eau-de-vies in the world.
This appellation was choosen by the administrative department at its creation in 1790.
The beginning of the cider eau-de-vie not yet known as Calvados, dates back a long way with a first official mention in the 16th Century. It was in 1942 however, that Calvados was granted its Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée.
There are three different appellation areas each one with their own characteristics :
- « Calvados » : apples from the area of Calvados are distilled in the continuous method (column alambic)
- « Calvados Pays d’Auge » : apples from the area « Pays d’Auge », are double distilled (alambic à repasse or pot still)
- « Calvados Domfrontais » : apples and pears (at least 30% of pears) from the district of Domfrontais are distilled in the continuous method (column alambic).
Elaboration of the Calvados
First the apple juice is extracted that will after fermentation become cider for distilling. The duration of the distillation is one year : one starts on the first of July and finishes on 30th June the following year. Two distillations take place a year : in autumn and spring. The regulations concerning this are very strict.
The alambic is an indispensable apparatus for the distillation of Calvados. This operation involves separating the alcohol from the water. When the cider is heated, the alcohol evaporates before boiling point which is inferior to that of water. To obtain the Calvados it is necessary to collect these alcoholic vapours and to condense them. There are two types of alambic used :
- The alambic à repasse or « charentais » : A traditional alambic that allows for double successive heating. The first distillation is from the cider and contains the « brouillis » or « petites eaux » with a strength of 28-30%. Whether in the first or second distillation, the « têtes » (heads) as well as the « queues » (tails) are apart. They will be blended with other petites eaux and then distilled again. The result of the second distillation is called « la bonne chauffe » because the eau-de-vie must rise to 72% maximum.
- The « alambic de premier jet » or column alambic :This distillation takes place in just one operation in a continuous method alambic that is made up on little alambics put together. It is composed of three principal elements : the boiler, the column known as ‘epuisement’ with fifteen or sixteen plates and the column of condensation composed of eight plates.
The first column receives the cider in the upper part. The cider drops down through the plates one after the other. With the heat, the most volatile elements (water and esters) turn into vapours. The water vapours coming from the cider rise again in the opposite direction and are enhanced by circulating in the cider with the volatile elements : the alcohol, the esters and the aromas.
They are finally concentrated in the smallest column which delivers the eau-de-vie at 72%.
Leaving the alambic, the production process for Calvados is not yet finished. It is essential to age it. This way it will be marketable. The compulsory delay is two years.
Calvados ages in dry oak barrels allowing its perfect completion. In time it will gradually acquire its specific colour and developing aromas. The cellar masters’ work consists of blending and combining eaux-de-vies from different areas and of varying ages with the goal of bringing out the best qualities in each one.