An international group has been formed to tackle issues experienced in the complex and changeable spirits industry. Brexit, trade wars, counterfeiting and debilitating taxes are just a few of the problems that the World Spirits Alliance (WSA) is looking to address. Comprising spirits companies and trade groups the WSA will represent the industry in front of international organisations such as the World Trade Organization, the World Health Organization and the United Nations. Just last month the UK launched its own Spirits Alliance with the aim of “protecting and nurturing the growth of UK spirits”. Its immediate campaign is to stop any further increase of duty on UK spirits. Currently the government states that spirits duty will go up by the retail price index (RPI) in this year’s Budget. This is extremely disappointing as 65% of the nation’s distillers have reported increased sales of spirits since chancellor Philip Hammond froze spirits duty in the 2018 Autumn Budget. Spirit duty rates in the UK have increased from £21.35 per litre of pure alcohol in 2008 to £28.74 in 2019, the fourth highest rate in Europe and one of the highest rates in the world. The price of a bottle of cognac sold at 40%abv, such as Hermitage 2005, therefore includes £8.05 duty. A spokesperson for the UK Spirits Alliance said: “From Inverness to Penderyn, spirits producers across the country are joining up to back the campaign to fix duty”.
Scottish whisky blender, Compass Box, has released a new spirit drink comprising calvados & whisky. The calvados, from the Christian Drouin distillery, has been blended with whiskies aged in French oak casks and Sherry butts. Compass Box’s founder said “We have been blending calvados and Scotch whisky at home for years, enchanted by their complementary qualities. Although one of the world’s greatest spirits, calvados is also one of the most underappreciated”. The result is said to possess ‘layers of apple character married beautifully with malty, vanilla and spice-like notes’. Compass Box is not the only firm to recognise the success of this flavour combination, though. Sweden’s Mackmyra distillery has just released a single malt whisky, finished in ex-calvados casks. Perhaps such ideas will help calvados get the appreciation it so deserves?
Calvados really is the finest example of apple brandy so it is a mystery that it isn’t more popular. Traditionally rustic, being based on the common old farmyard apple rather than the noble grape, perhaps it is too old fashioned for the influential trendsetters? And what about geography? Normandy is poorer and more rural than the elitist areas of Champagne and Cognac. The region staged countless wars and its fields are the final resting place of thousands of young men. But the trend is gradually changing. New calvados embassies are opening across the world. Indeed, official figures show that in 2017, 57% of the 6m bottles of calvados sold were exported. Its popularity as a cocktail ingredient has certainly helped. One of London’s most stylish and up-and-coming bars, Coupette, puts calvados cocktails at the very heart of its menu. What is a surprise though is that mixologists are using not just calvados from the top cru, Pays D’Auge, but aged and more expensive vintages too. Calvados is a delicious, versatile and refreshing spirit. It goes well with food, tastes good neat, and can be the base for sophisticated cocktails.