When I reached out to Malt to ask if I could contribute content, I promised them brandy, Mezcal and rum reviews. With this Calvados review, I fulfill the whole promise.
It’s odd that even with the more readily available information on spirits these days, there is still a huge lack of awareness regarding French brandy. Oh sure, people know Cognac brands. But what smaller producers can they name? When Armagnac and Calvados are mentioned, at the most, almost everyone will only say they’ve heard of it. This is not me complaining, but rather, questioning out loud. Because these brandies are good. The bandwagon people are missing out. That is, for the sake of quality and prices, the best.
My fascination with Calvados started in 2016, when I first heard Charles Neal talk about it in the now defunct K&L Spirits Journal Podcast. That episode focused mainly on how Charles Neal Selections got started. He goes through mostly his time in Cognac, Armagnac, Normandy and stories regarding some of the brands he works with.
Having never been to France and knowing no one based there, the only thing I knew about Normandy then was it’s being part of D-Day in World War 2. To my surprise and delight, Normandy has a lot of apples and cows. The cows are bred for their meat. They graze where the apple trees are. Most importantly, the cow’s milk makes for a huge portion of the farmers profit. Their milk is sold to make cheese like Camembert.
Apparently, the cold and damp climate there is not suitable for growing grapes. So, while the rest of France makes grapes, wine and grape-based brandy, Normandy makes apples, pears, cider and cider brandy. Yes, Calvados is not just simply apple brandy. It is cider brandy. There are parts of Normandy like Pay D’ Auge where the max amount of pear cider-based brandy is only 30%. Then, there are parts like Dom Frontais where there has to be at least 30% pear cider-based brandy.
I wish I could go into more detail regarding Calvados, but my knowledge of it is still lacking. With the rise of Mezcal and rum, my self-education on Calvados keeps on taking a back seat. I’ve only tried about 10 different bottles of Calvados. They all come from only 3 different producers. Instead, I will talk more about Adrien Camut. Fittingly for this review, this Adrien Camut is the first ever bottle of Calvados I’ve owned and tried.
Adrien Camut is a family owned Calvados brand and producer in the Pays D’ Auge region of Normandy. It’s a part of Normandy where a lot of apples are grown. In the small community of Calvados fans, I know of, Adrien Camut is largely accepted as the best Calvados producer. The only other strong contender to the title seems to be Christian Drouin.
I did not notice until re-listening to the podcast episode, but Calvados is actually the first spirit I encountered where the importance of the raw material was discussed. It was said the reason there aren’t a lot of good Calvados is because it’s more of a secondary product for most apple farmers. A lot of Calvados producers don’t even own a still. They have to rent a still that goes around during distilling season, which is in August. Since the start, or boom, of the cider industry in the 1980s, cider started becoming more profitable to farmers. They use the prime apples to make cider. The dregs are used to make the brandy.
It was also mentioned that a scientific survey found apples for making cider are not optimal for making Calvados. Adrien Camut does the opposite. All the apples on the estate are grown for making Calvados. But they do make cider on the side for personal consumption.
I should note that these apples are smaller than the typical supermarket apples. The apples desired for making Calvados and cider have more skin contact. This makes them more bitter and tannic. Grocery apples are more acidic. I’d like to add that I also have heard grapes for making great wine does not necessarily mean be good for making brandy. It’s interesting how a lot of the industry people I’ve met, mostly Scotch brand ambassadors, who I talked to about this, dismissed it as the French being French. Were they simply unaware of a raw material’s significance? Or are they being paid to dismiss it because the powers that be say so?
This Adrien Camut is 6 years old aged in French Oak. It is bottled at 40%. I bought this in Tokyo back in 2017 for about $80. I think the US gets this for 43%. The distillery is said to grow 25 varieties of apples. The AOC requires Pay D’ Auge Calvados to be double distilled in wood fired pot stills.
Adrien Camut 6 year Calvados – review
On the nose: An all-out wave of floral apple and pear cider, but more on acidic apples. Some honey, blue cheese and light vanilla at the back of the acidity. There’s a hint of waxiness at the end.
In the mouth: Straight up apple cider and its acidity. They’re accompanied by soft notes of blue cheese and some chicken liver. There’s this long lasting floral and sweet that reminds me of elderflowers and kiwi followed by honey syrup and vanilla. Notes of anise.
This has softened over time, but the spirit is pretty much still straight forward. When this was newly opened, this was more acidic, blue cheese-y and chicken livery. After years of oxidation, it’s more floral and softer.
Calvados seems to be very different from Cognac and Armagnac where the wood influence is stronger. This lets the fruit flavored distillate shine more. I think this brandy is a must try for funky rum and mezcal drinkers.