In the French countryside, people don’t obsess over pumpkin spice flavored baguettes or Camembert as soon as the fall weather hits. Instead, Normans sip on a complex glass of fruity yet earthy Calvados. It's an apple brandy that comes from the region of the same name in lower Normandy.
Calvados is distilled from cider and then aged in oak barrels that impart a deep and mellow flavor. The spirit's recorded history dates back to the early 16th century, when an apple grower first documented his endeavor to distill cider into brandy. Fast forward to today— it’s now one of the region’s claims to fame.
Like Champagne, the French have a specific set of rules defining what can and can’t be called "Calvados." There are three official regions where the growing, harvesting, manufacturing, distilling and aging processes must take place in order for the product to qualify.
Because of the differences in the soil and terrain in these regions, each type of Calvados has a distinct flavor. Each region also comes with its own set of regulations about the distillation and aging processes. In comparison, American apple brandy doesn’t have a strict set of regulations like its French ancestor, so the products range from aged (in various types of barrels) to un-aged (typically called eau de vie).
For all the Francophiles in the D.C. area, here are a few cocktails that showcase this traditional French spirit:
The menu at 2 Birds 1 Stone rotates weekly, but patrons can request the "Sky at Dusk" for $14. It’s made with Calvados, Reposado Tequila, Madeira and Amaro. The oaky apple notes from the Calvados and the caramel notes of the Madeira make a perfect fall pair, and the tequila adds a bit of a peppery flair.
1501 9th St. NW
Though the Tokyo-themed restaurant focuses on Japanese cuisine, the upstairs bar nods to the French. In the Opium Den (located on the second floor), there’s a special menu that’s only running for three months (until December 1).
"OD1" is made with Calvados, apple honey, lemon, egg foam and blood salt. Blood salt is just what it sounds like – dehydrated pork blood that is ground into powder. It’s then combined with Spanish paprika and sprinkled on the egg foam to bring out the flavor of the apples. "OD4" contains hot gin, Calvados, Darjeeling, mulled cider, and apple honey, brewed for two in an English China teapot. (Note: Anyone who received a sealed copy of the Opium Den menu can bring it in to receive a free drink from the list.)
800 16th St. NW
"The Long Hello" ($16) was originally created as the perfect wedding toast, but the drink is well-loved for greeting the beginning of autumn. The Calvados Boulard XO (Pays d’Auge) is made with apples and pears, so it brings out the pear notes in the St-Germain. The drink is finished with barrel-aged bitters, sparkling wine, an apple wheel and a dusting of nutmeg. It’s fall in a coupe glass.
1734 N St. NW
A new addition to Iron Gate’s bar menu, "Meletto #3" has Daron Calvados (Pays d’Auge), Cardamaro, cinnamon syrup and lemon, all for $13.
4000 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Va.
If Calvados at a Mexican cantina is a bit unexpected, then Calvados in a julep at a Mexican cantina is downright shocking. Pepita’s "Georgia Peach Julep" ($10) is a mix of Calvados, cognac, peach and mint.
775 G St. NW
The "Widow’s Kiss" is a traditional apple brandy cocktail, first referenced in George Kappeler’s "Modern American Drinks," a quintessential guide to classic cocktails. Proof’s version ($14) uses Calvados for a darker, earthier flavor. But, the herbal and floral notes from the Yellow Chartreuse, Benedictine, and Angostura Bitters balance the drink well.
728 King St., Alexandria, Va.
The "France Meets Virginia" drink for $13 needs little explanation. It features Calvados Bushnell (Pays d’Auge), Pink Lady Apples, Sweet Stayman Cider from Foggy Ridge (a distillery in southern Virginia), and housemade apple bitters.