Cider was produced as a substitute for wine in many countries where the climate was too cold and damp to produce grapes and where there was an abundance of apples. Apple brandy, produced from the distilled cider has a long established tradition and the first official written references date back to the 16th century. Normandy, in the northwest of France soon became known for producing the best apple brandy, known as Calvados. This area grows approximately 800 different kinds of apples of which only forty-eight varieties are recommended by law for making the cider. Calvados, a region in western Normandy just east of Rouen, is known for producing the best apple brandy.
Although Calvados is considered an apple brandy, it can also contain spirit distilled from pears. After the fruit is pressed, the juice is separated from the pulp and fermented for about 6 weeks until it reaches an alcohol level of at least 4.5% and all the natural sugars has been converted into alcohol.
Apple cider on average has an alcohol level of 4 to 5%. The Calvados spirit is distilled in pot stills and at around 70% alcoholic concentration it is ready for aging. It is possible to speed up and shorten the process of fermentation from 6 weeks to about 8 days. A few days before you crush and press your apples select some good quality apples, crush and press these and leave the juice to ferment. Once this juice has started to ferment you may proceed to crush and press the rest of the apples. Then mix the fermenting juice in the apple juice. This fermenting juice will help to initiate the fermentation of the apple juice that much faster. You should mix the juice several times a day. The juice should be placed in open recipients.
The first distillation will produce results with an alcoholic concentration of about 30%. To produce Calvados a second distillation is needed. The heads and tails are separated and discarded (see Basic distillation rules). The Calvados from this 2nd distillation has an alcoholic concentration of about 70%.
To produce one bottle of Calvados you will need about 28 kg of apples. Most Calvados is either all apples, or a mixture of apples and pears. Before aging Calvados is colourless, produces a burning sensation on the palate, and has an aroma of fruit and alcohol. The special colour and enhanced flavour of this apple brandy comes from the interaction of the brandy with the casks, which impart wood tannins and the air in the cellar.