This delicious drink is made from apples and in some cases, pears – a distilled cider, if you will.
Autumn is beautiful in Alberta, and growing up, I remember the stirring excitement as the fall months approached. In contrast to the back to school blues, the house would fill with stewing smells from the crab apples harvested in our back yard, and bountiful selections found on our weekend farmers market visits.
The bounty of Mother Nature would inspire my mom to bake fruit pies and muffins, apple sauce/butters and even make a crabapple liqueur (I come by it honestly!). So when it comes to cocktails to talk about for early fall, it makes perfect sense to choose Calvados. This often-underappreciated, incredibly delicious “eau de vie” (“water of life”) is made from apples and/or a small percentage of pears – a distilled cider if you will.
The history of Calvados is rich with romance, passion, and tradition. The production of Calvados can be found dating back to the 1500’s, with many family-run producers passing down the business to the next generation.
Calvados hails from the Normandy region of France, although apple brandies can be made in other parts of the world. True Calvados is governed by the appellation d’origine contrôlée regulations in Normandy, France. This governance stipulates the amount of trees that can be planted which will bear the over 100 varieties of apples and 30 varieties of pears that can be used in Calvados production.
The apples (which aren’t very good eating apples) look very much like crabapples, and are sought after for their acidity and tannin found in the skins. After pressing, the cider goes through a double distillation process. Once the spirit exits the stills it will go into an oak aging process of a minimum of 2 years, where it will pick up colour, notes of vanilla, spice, and caramel.
In my career I would often find Calvados in the kitchens, where the chefs would use it to enhance the existing flavours, such as in incredible flambés, but that’s when I noticed it was found more often in the kitchen than requested in the dining room. For self-professed “spirit nerds” like me, the romance is found in the moment of consumption; one of my favourite traditions on a crisp fall evening is to sip on a snifter of calvados embracing the smell of fallen leaves and the looming chill of winter.
Then why mix it into a cocktail creation and not just enjoy it on its own? Why not I ask? So with a little help from my friend and award-winning mixologist Madeleine MacDonald (Model Milk and Model Citizen) we rediscovered and came up with a few that you’ll be sure to enjoy. Refreshing and simple, these cocktails can be enjoyed as a simple highball, for a celebration (after the gold rush) or as a digestif (sidecar). Even more fun to consider – try making your own tonic too!
The most fun in the task at hand?
Discovering the secret of how to name a cocktail! Or at least Madeleine’s secret, “I am creating cocktails on a weekly, if not daily basis, and one day we were exhausted with the challenge of the perfect naming process, so one day I just threw my hands up in the air, grabbed one of the albums we play in the restaurant, and said whatever the song is on Side A track 4, it shall be!” in our case “After the gold rush”… genius and fitting when you see it sparkle.