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Expansion Of Our Toutain Calvados Range

Toutain CalvadosThe Apple Of A Brandy Drinker’s Eye

We have just expanded our recently acquired Toutain Calvados range; a family firm, now on the fifth generation, who produce calvados from their own orchards.  In keeping with the high standards of Brandyclassics, we know precisely how long each Toutain product has spent in cask.  Unlike most calvados producers, Toutain make their calvados without the addition of pears.  (Pears are usually added to increase acidity and in these cases a pear drop flavour can sometimes be detected.)  They are smooth and mellow with an unmistakable apple flavour and now the whole range comes in a new, boxed presentation.

The two new products on our shelves are as follows:

Toutain Reserve 3 Year Old Calvados.   The youngest in the range but still with the delicious aroma and flavour of vanilla and cooked apples.  RRP £37.92.

Toutain Reserve Odile 60 Year Old Calvados.  This exclusive bottling pays tribute to Odile Toutain who, 60 years ago, took over the management of Domaine de la Couterie.  Distilled in 1959, the calvados was carefully aged for 60 years in the family cellars. Presented in a beautiful carafe and sealed in a wooden housing, only a limited edition of 234 bottles is available.  RRP £881.58

View the entire range of Toutain age-statemented calvados here.

Five of the Most Popular Types of Apple Brandy

apple brandyWhether you call it applejack, calvados or bätzi, apple brandy is a spirit made from fermented and distilled apples.  There are clear, unaged versions and golden-coloured ones that have spent years in oak barrels.  These are five of the most popular:


Historically, applejack was made with North American cider apples and produced using a method called “jacking” or freeze distillation. These days, however, it is typically distilled in column or pot stills and aged in barrels or bottled as a young, clear spirit.  Applejack and apple brandy are by definition the same, but there are minor differences between the apples used, terroir and the ageing process.


A clear brandy made from dried apples which comes from Switzerland’s Obwalden region.  The process of ageing can vary but the duration is usually six months or more.  Bätzi is closely related to another type of Swiss apple brandy, Träsch, but the latter is made with fresh, not dried apples.


Calvados is an apple brandy which must be made with apples from Normandy, France as stated in its Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) status.  The apples are fermented into cider, distilled into eau-de-vie, and then aged for at least two years in oak barrels.  Whilst a small number of pears are permissible, the majority of the mix has to come from the region’s very many apple varieties.

Eau-de-Vie de Pomme

Crisp and water-clear, eau-de-vie is a broad category of brandy that can be made from pretty much any fruit. It’s produced in much of Europe as well as the U.S.  When made from apples, the spirit is called eau-de-vie de pomme.  The apples are fermented into cider before being distilled, often (but not always) in a copper pot still.  Eau-de-vie is generally unaged.


Hailing from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, this is a clear, unaged spirit. As with calvados, it is not always exclusively made from apples; Obstler can contain a variety and larger quantities of other fruits in its mix.  Apple and pear obstler is common, but there are also varieties made with apples and plums, apricots and cherries.

Toutain – New Range of Calvados

ToutainWe have been looking for a new range of calvados to offer the UK market for some while.  It’s not been easy as so many are too sweet or have lost the appley flavour.  It was therefore tremendously exciting when we came across the Toutain Calvados range.  A family firm, now on the fifth generation, who produce calvados from their own orchards.

In keeping with the high standards of Brandyclassics, we know precisely how long each Toutain product has spent in cask.  This range includes Toutain Vieux, Hors d’Age, Vieille Reserve and Tres Vieille and they have been aged from 8 to 45 years.  They are smooth and mellow with an unmistakable apple flavour.

Unlike most calvados producers Toutain make their calvados without the addition of pears.  (Pears are usually added to increase acidity and in these cases a pear drop flavour can sometimes be detected.)  This is an interesting departure from the norm so one must conclude that their own apples have a very high level of acidity.

Not only are these calvados quite different they are delicious too!

The Different Tastes of Calvados

In many ways calvados is the newest brandy of France.  It only became recognised as such in 1942 when the appellation controleé regulations officially gave calvados a protected name.  The area around the Valley d’Auge and the land extending east past Lisieux became the principle production area.  Here, the Jurassic limestone soil is ideal for growing the various apples required to make calvados.

A range of different apples are used initially to create the finest cider – bitter, bitter sweet, acidic and sweet.  These apples have low levels of acidity so a small, firm, Perry pear is also added.  This addition, usually 12 – 15 % of the total, is essential as it increases the acidity of the cider to the level required for distillation.  Consequently, calvados can often have a pear drop taste which many people dislike.

Of course, the flavour of calvados from each distiller will differ.  The distillation techniques, apple varieties, condition of apples when harvested and ageing process will all have an effect.  Sometimes a finish is also added.  This term describes a process where, in the latter stages of ageing, calvados is stored for a limited period in a barrel that has previously held another spirit or wine.  However, many producers find this technique abhorrent as it masks the true identity of their spirit.

The pear drop aroma and taste is most noticeable in young calvados.  With long barrel ageing it is significantly reduced because the calvados builds a richness which masks the pungency of the Perry pear.  One of the best examples of this is the 1969 vintage by Dupont, a firm that has worked hard to nurture quality in their fine spirits.

calvados tasteThe firm of Chateau du Breuil has developed a different method of masking the pear drop effect. They only harvest naturally fallen apples which have started to go brown.  At this stage the water content of the apple has dropped and the sugar content is at its highest.  These apples produce a sweeter cider and ultimately a sweeter calvados with baked apple aromas and flavours.  The period required to age in the barrel for the flavours to mature is therefore reduced.  A fine example of this type of calvados is the Chateau du Breuil 15 Year Old.

The Calvados Region

There are three appellations for Calvados which is governed by appellation contrôlée regulations.  These regulations require that the terroir is defined and the procedures in production, such as pressing, fermentation, distillation, and ageing are regulated.  The apples and pears are defined cider varieties and a minimum of two years aging in oak barrels is required.  Usually, single-column distillation is used.

The AOC Calvados Pays d’Auge area is limited to the east end of the département of Calvados and a few adjoining districts.  Here there is extensive quality control.  A minimum of six weeks of fermentation of the cider is required and double distillation in an alembic pot-still must be used.

AOC Calvados Domfrontais reflects the long tradition of pear orchards in the area.  The orchards must consist of at least 15% pear trees and a minimum of 30% pears must be used in the calvados.  It is distilled on a single-column still and a three-year minimum of aging in oak barrels is required.


Rare Calvados

Although calvados can be dated back to Napoleonic times when it was used both as an anaesthetic and antiseptic in Napoleon’s navy, most calvados is relatively modern. However, you can still buy rare calvados which dates from the first half of the twentieth century. Calvados is made from a cidre which is produced from the apple orchards in Normandy.  Apples are not generally acidic enough to start the distillation and so most firms also combine a small quantity of an acidic pear known as a Perry Pear. It is for this reason that most young calvados carry a distinctive pear drop aroma but this will start to mellow after 10 or 12 years and provide a richer apple flavour. Calvados distilled before 1960 are considered as very rare and can therefore attract quite high prices.

How to make Calvados – Label, Bottles, Age and Presentation.

It is common practice with most calvados producers to put the age of the spirit in the bottle on the label, but it is not a requirement and can be confusing. Some producers put the minimum age, but older calvados may be in the bottle.

Vintages can also be used but whilst it normally refers to the year of distillation it can also refer to the year of the apple harvest. Some of the generic terms as used in the cognac industry are also used but they mainly refer to very young spirits; for example VO or VSOP refers to a spirit aged for a minimum of 4 years, whilst XO or Extra refers to one of 6 years. Where a vintage is shown it refers to the year of distillation. Terms such as Tradition, Vieux, Vieille Reserve, Cordon Or, Cordon Argent or even Hors d’Age also add to the confusion.

The indication of alcohol is also required in France and shows the percentage by volume of alcohol. The term “Non Reduit” (not reduced), can sometimes be seen on the label (it is refreshing that at least in Calvados they can admit that their spirit is in most cases required to be reduced). The traditional calvados bottle is rather dumpy with a long neck and rather like the other great brandies has been traditionally green or even black in colour, thus preventing sight of the liquid inside. Some special shape bottles and a range of more modern designs are now commonly available – Chateau du Breuil is easily recognised for it’s phallic like neck, but some taller bottles are also available and a range of carafes also seem to be finding their way onto the market. Regrettably label design has never been exciting and remains firmly in the hands of the traditionalist.

All we can add at this point is to open a bottle this Christmas and enjoy. It’s an exceptionally fine spirit!

How to make Calvados – Making the Cider

Most of the flavours in the calvados comes from the skins of the apples rather than the pulp. The equipment required for making the cider comprises of a grater tank, a press and a vat called a “belleron”.

In the press house the apples are washed, selected and then crushed or grated. The pulp is left to stand for a few hours in a vat to macerate. This softens the skins and extracts the tannins and aromas and at the same time oxidises, changing the colour of the pulp. The pulp is then pressed and the solids, known as the marc is separated and sometimes sold as feed for the farm animals. Usually the juice from quality fruit is pressed once and the output will not exceed 65% of the weight, however it is possible to produce up to 90% by wetting the marc and re-pressing and providing a juice of lower concentration. The traditional press is made of wooden trays with linen stacked one on top of the other and pressed from the top but more modern methods employ cylindrical presses similar to those used for making cognac. It provides a juice that is both hygienic and retaining the colour and flavours of the apples.

Fermentation of the cider for distillation is continued until crisp and dry unlike that used for drinking and referred to as “cider bouche”. The fermentation takes place in large oak barrels which have thinner walls than barrels for ageing and the cider ferments on its lees, the yeasty sediment for six to eight weeks before taking it out of its lees. Some quality producers can keep it in the barrels for anything up to a year. The minimum strength of the cider for distillation is 4.5% but most producers will ferment it to 5, 6 or even 7%. Ciders for drinking are stored in open vats where the pectin in the apple will clear most of the impurities.

How to make Calvados – Viticulture, the fruit for the cidre.

The harvest of apples starts around the beginning of October and continues through to nearly Christmas since apples, unlike grapes ripen at different times and are also harvested at different stages of ripeness. Indeed one producer uses fallen apples which have a greater sugar and reduced water content thus making a sweeter cidre.

The apples and pears are defined cider varieties and must be grown in the appellation zone. The amount of pears used varies between the areas but cannot exceed on third unless the calvados comes from Domfrontais. Perhaps the most important area of control is the style of orchard and the quantity of apples allowed to be used. Two types are common: 1 “Haut-tige” (high stem or high branch) planted pasture style 10 metres apart and with a density of 70 – 180 trees per hectare (40 trees minimum for pears). The yield should not exceed 20 tonnes of apples per hectare and the first harvest must wait untilo the seventh year from planting. 2 “Basse–tige” (low stem or low branch). This is the tighter modern planting style with a density of 400 – 750 trees per hectare and the harvest must wait until the third year of planting, the output from these trees is around 40 tonnes per ha. The quality, transportation and storage are all regulated by authorities. The traditional high stem trees are at their best around 18 years from planting whilst the low stem trees take only about 8 years to be at full maturity.

Most producers will use a range of bitter and bittersweet apples and the flavours can influence the calvados although the pears will affect the flavour in the first 10 years providing a pear drop effect on the palate but which gradually decreases as the calvados matures developing a richer and deeper quality and thus masking the pungent pear aroma and taste.