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The history of Calvados – The Golden age of Distillation.

During the eighteenth century, industrialisation had started and people had started to take jobs in the towns and in 1831 an Irishman, A Coffey designed a still that revolutionised the making of quality spirits. The “columnstill” or Coffeystill consisted of columns with a series of vapourisation chambers stacked one on top of the other. The difference from the Alembic still was dramatic as the columnstill could produce a continuous never ending flow. The French author Rousel, specified that a good part of the production of cider and brandy was intended for the navy and ships which left for fishing cod in Newfoundland. The rural population was in decline but the towns were growing and the coffee culture were opening bars and bistros to serve the nearby factories where coffee calva was served to promote the working class comfort. To the majority of the French working class these cafés became far more than places to eat and drink, they were an escape from the hard working life and places where ideas could be exchanged.

During the nineteenth century, the interest for natural science grew and the local worthies became fascinated by apples orchards and cider. Much was written on the subjects and a man called Odolon-Desnos listed hundreds of varieties of apples and pears in his book published in 1829 Traité de la Culture des Pommiers et des Poiriers et de la Fabrication du cidre et du Poiré. The first pomological association was created in Rouen in 1852 and expanded in 1883 to Saint Lo with l’Association Pomologique de l’Ouest and in 15 years included the whole of France in l’Association Française Pomologique.

The big break for calvados was still to come and came with the help of a small louse named phylloxera vastatrix which around 1874 had started to chew the vine roots in Europe. It knocked out the competition from wine and wine brandies and suddenly calvados and cider became in high demand. The following years became the “Belle Epoque” or beautiful days. In Normandy hardly any vines were replanted and the market for cider and calvados would never be better. To meet demand the orchards almost quadrupled in thirty years from 4 million hectares in 1870 to 14 million hectares in 1900 and in 1889 Fabienne Cosset concluded that cider had replaced wine in Paris.