I’m taking another break from rum to review some brandy, specifically Calvados, since Malt hasn’t had any in a while.
Today’s Calvados brand is Christian Drouin. Along with Adrien Camut, it’s considered to be one of the best Calvados brands available. However, unlike the Camut family who has been producing since the 1800s, Christian Drouin has only been doing so for a bit more than half a century.
In 1960, Christian Drouin Sr. became the owner of a farm called Fiefs Sainte Anne on the Gonneville Hills. There were cider apple trees on the land which made Christian want to produce his own Calvados. He got the help of a licensed distiller named Pierre Pivet in the northern part of Pays d’Auge. The first twenty years were spent distilling his cider production. The calvados were matured in various casks such as sherry and port. Those casks were aged in old half-timbered buildings along with several batches of very old Calvados he purchased from reputable estates that were sold.
Christian Drouin Jr. formed a partnership with his father in 1969. Having spent 10 years abroad, he wanted to take their calvados globally. To do this, he had to go against the “coffee and calva” culture. With the help of the old stock his father was aging and the older stock they bought, they were soon selling to the world’s great hotels and finest restaurants. In the early 1990s, their success led to them needing more space, so they transferred production to a 17th century farm called Coudray Rabut.
Note: I’m not entirely sure what this “coffee and calva” culture is, as internet searches didn’t produce anything useful. Maybe coffee was mixed with Calva? But after World War 2, much of Normandy was a mess. Calvados ended up being referred to Calva after this. The Nazis developed a liking for Calvados when they occupied Normandy. It’s said that this led to more demand in Germany. There are stories of them taking aged and aging stocks from the cellars. We also have to take into account that apple and pear trees may have been destroyed during the war. These factors would have resulted in Calva being a term of disrespect. Waiting for trees to grow and stocks to mature would have meant a temporary lowering of quality.
Today, the third generation has joined Christian Drouin. Christian Jr’s son, Guillame, trained as a winemaker and agricultural engineer. After devoting some years to developing exports, production management and general management, he now handles blending with his father.
Unlike in whisk(e)y where the base ingredient (grain) is swept under the rug, the quality Calvados producers place great importance on them. With that, they organically grow 30 different varieties. The apples mentioned in the site are sharp, bittersharp, sweets and bittersweets. Cows graze the orchards. They fertilize the soil and eat the apples that have worms in them. They’re also an indicator as to when the apples are ripe.
After harvesting, the ripe apples are washed and sorted. They are then pressed in a champagne-type press that extracts only 65% of the juice. This results in extracting just the juiciness and none of the bitterness or tartness.
The apples harvested between September to November are then naturally fermented into cider. They are kept for months in cider vats and tuns. Young cider is distilled to produce fruity spirits destined to be sold as young calvados, while cider that’s been kept longer are distilled around June to produce a more robust spirit. The resulting calvados from these are aged longer.
Like all calvados from Pay d’Auge, the cider is double distilled in pot stills. First distillation yields a spirit at around 30% ABV. While the 2nd run produced a spirit at around 70% ABV. The heads and tails are redistilled. Cuts are said to vary depending on the cider.
Christian Drouin uses a lot of old casks. These casks used to hold sherry, port, rivesaltes (a type of sweet wine) and banyuls (French fortified wine). The standard angel’s share in Normandy is about 2% per year, but Christian Drouin’s goes for about 4% per year.
For some reason, the 15 year old isn’t on their website. So I reached out to them on their Instagram account. They said that this was distilled in traditional (pot) stills, then aged in traditional (toasted French oak) casks.
Christian Drouin 15 Year Old – Review
On the nose: Very fruity. I get light to medium aromas of mixed green apples & Fuji apples. After those are aromas of camembert cheese, honey, toffee, chicken liver, pears, peaches, and flowers. At the end is a bit of an apple cider note.
In the mouth: More bitter at the start. Then it gets fruitier as it goes on. At the front are tastes of Doublemint gum, Granny Smith apples and apple cider vinegar. After those are pears, Fuji apples, honey, camembert cheese, toffee, honey, vanilla, and granola bars. Green apple skin notes at the end.
I love this Calvados. It has very long, pleasant and mellow fruity aromas. Taking these all in gives me a mental image of being in the section of a wet market where the fruits and flowers are.
It’s almost the same with the mouth but a bit harsher. Don’t be misled by the abv. I find this to still be full-bodied. The complexity is lacking but it’s very drinkable with the pleasantly familiar notes. This is something to have on a relaxing night with good friends and good conversations. Even the on-the-rocks drinkers will enjoy this.
That said, I wouldn’t recommend letting this sit in the glass for long. It seems like the apple skin notes slowly become more pronounced as it gets to oxidize more, so just keep on pouring bit by bit while drinking it.