All you need to know
about spirits made
from apple
in a nutshell.

Apple can be found everywhere and are part of the fruit basket of Europe for a long time, hence many spirits made from apple. From Calvados in France to Apple Jack in the US via Apple Cider.


The regulations of Calvados

Calvados is a French DO (Denomination of Origin) located in Normandie – it is both the name of a territory and of a spirit. Calvados obtained its first Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) in 1942.

The French classification, AOC is closed to the European protected geographical indication status also known as PGI.
There are three of them according to strictly defined geographical production areas and with their own characteristics, briefly:

AOC Calvados. It is the basic Calvados. Calvados often carries the name of the specific zone where it is produced.  Its area covers a large part of Basse-Normandie, some communes on the borders of the Mayenne and the Sarthe, as well as the Pays de Bray in Seine-Maritime. It requires two years of minimum ageing in barrels. It is most often single column distilled even though the legislation does not say anything on the process. It represents 70% of the total of the Calvados production. 

AOC Calvados du Pays d’Auge.  It is the higher Calvados quality. It must come from the distillation of a cider made from apples from the Pays d’Auge region in the department of Calvados which also includes some neighbouring communes of Orne and Eure (neighbouring departments). Pear cannot make more than 30% of the blend. It has to be double distilled in Charentais or Alambic à repasse ( which are two names in French for a style of pot still). The second distillation can bring the final product of up to 70% abv. It has to spend at least two years in a barrel, more of the case, way longer! It represents 29% of the total Calvados production.

AOC Calvados Domfrontais. It must contain 30% of pears.The apples and pears must come from the Domfrontais area, which is made up of small cities in Orne but also in Manche and Mayenne departments. Most of the Calvados Domfrontais contain up to 80% pear. It is mostly distilled in continuous stills and it must aged fro at least 3 years in a barrel before bottling. It represents 1% of Calvados production. The term Calvados Fermier means that traditional agricultural methods are used (fermier=farmer). It can be used for any of the appellation.

The geography of Calvados

As previously written, the Calvados DO corresponds to a specific geography in Northwestern France.
Feel free to check that map HERE

How is Calvados made?

The ingredients of Calvados

The orchards for Calvados making must have at least 70% apple trees with bitter or bittersweet varieties and at most 10% of acidulous varieties.
There are 46 varieties of apples allowed for Calvados, divided into five categories:

1. Sour: they acidify and stabilize the blends
2. Acidic: they acidify and stabilize the blends too, a blend will typically have 10% of this type of apple
3. Bitter: they bring tannin and fix aromas, a blend will have approximately 20% of this type of apple
4. Bittersweet: they bring tannin and sugar, these types of apple makes up the majority of the blend +/- 50%
5. Sweet: these apples provide the sugar to assist the fermentation and are about 20% of the blend

The fermentation of Calvados

Before the fermentation, the apples are crushed (each variety separately) and placed in vats to allow the natural yeasts to start working. No addition of yeast, sugar or SO2 is allowed. Calvados DO will be made from a four-week ferment, while that of Pays d’Auge can last between six and eight weeks, or even longer. The end result is a cider that reaches around 6% abv.
Once the cider obtained, prior to distillation, the blender can proceed to a first assemblage of ciders, to orientate already the flavor profile and characteristics into a certain direction.

The distillation of Calvados

Two distillations take place during the year : in autumn and spring.
The regulations concerning this are very strict. The choice of stills depends from the wish of the producer and also from the rule of the DO. for example, a  Calvados Pays D’Auge must be distilled in a copper pot still that is identical to the one used in Cognac.
For distillation, there are two types of stills used1. The alambic à repasse or alambic charentais (pot still). The first distillation is from the cider and contains the brouillis or petites eaux with a strength of 28-30%. Whether in the first or second distillation, the heads as well as the tails are separated. They will be blended with other petites eaux and distilled again. The result of the second distillation is called la bonne chauffe. It corresponds to a distillate reaching 72% maximum abv.2. The alambic de premier jet or column still. This distillation takes place in just one operation in a continuous still that is made up on little alambics put together. It is composed of three principal elements : the boiler, the column known as épuisement with fifteen or sixteen plates and the column of condensation composed of eight plates. The first column receives the cider in the upper part. The cider drops down through the plates one after the other. With the heat, the most volatile elements (water and esters) turn into vapours. The water vapours coming from the cider rise again in the opposite direction and are enhanced by circulating in the cider with the volatile elements: the alcohol, the esters and the aromas. They are finally concentrated in the smallest column which delivers an eau-de-vie at 72%.The Calvados Domfrontais must be distilled using a Double copper column still, often over a direct fire and therefore a bain-marie (a water bath) may be used.

Maturation and ageing of Calvados

The new made spirit must undergo ageing for a minimum of two years.  Calvados may be given a short period of maturation in new oak barrels first and then put into 1000 to 10000 litre vats called foudres or it may just be put straight into foudres. The foudres will not have any oaky effect but will allow slow oxydation. 
It will gradually acquire its specific colour and develop aromas. The cellar masters’ work consists of blending and combining eaux-de-vies from different areas and of varying ages with the goal of bringing out the best qualities in each one.

Age indication:         

*** or FINE: 2 years or 3 for Domfrontais          
Vieux or Réserve: 3 years in vat at least          
VO or VSOP or Vieille Réserve: 4 years in a vat at least         
XO or Extra or Napoleon or Age Inconnu or Hors d’Age: 6 years in a vat at least

Most top producers will exceed these limitations.

Apple brandies beyond Calvados

Apple liqueur

is a low alcohol and often sweet spirit made from apple. Neutral alcohol is added to fermenting cider. It stops the fermentation before all the sugar are transformed in to alcohol.It is very close to Vins Doux Naturels except that here cider is used instead of wines…Apple brandy is a generic term referring to a spirit distilled from fermented apple juice or mashed apples, usually aged in oak vats.In the US Apple brandy and Appeljack are interchangeable terms.

Somerset Cider Brandy

is an apple brandy that has been in written records as far back as 1678. In  1987 Burrow Hill became the first legal distillery in Somerset for 150 years and received a license a couple of years afterwards. The making is very close to Calvados making.

Apple cider

(also called sweet cider or soft cider or simply cider) is the name used in the United States and some parts of Canada for an unfiltered, unsweetened, non-alcoholic beverage made from apples. Although it is generally simply called “cider” in these regions, it should not be confused with the alcoholic beverage known as cider in most parts of the world, which is fermented and alcoholic and the base for Calvados for example, called hard cider in North America.


Pommeau is a low alcohol blend made from 2/3 unfermented apple juice and 1/3 calvados, which is then age for at least 14 month in an oak barrel. It has usually a abv under 20% and technically as it is fresh juice to which alcohol is added, it my be considered as a fortified wine or a Vinx Doux Naturels.


Applejack is an alcoholic beverage made from apple cider.
It goes back to the time when the United States was still an English colony. Applejack is more preciely linked to the history of New Jersey for it was used as a mean of payment for road construction teams in the 18th century. The oldest distillery in America is Scobeyville, Laird & Co which happened to be an apple jack producer in New Jersey. They indeed have the first distillery permit that was ever issued.
The term apple “jack” comes from jacking refering to the dangerous art of freeze distillation. Freeze distillation consists of letting a fermented product (here, apple must or cider) in the cold so that alcohol separates from water given they have different freezing points like they have different points of condensation.Today is it made with a column still, which makes the fermented juice with an alcohol content of less than 10% a concentrate with an alcohol content of 30 to 40%, slightly sweetened, which usually has the taste and smell of apples. By law, applejack must age two year in a barrel.Due to the relatively higher cost and lower yield of alcohol produced from fruit fermentation, products commercially called applejack may consist of apple juice with added grain brandy until the spirit reaches the desired alcohol content.
The Unites States recognizes this category as blended applejack if there is at least 20% Applejack in the blend.

Jack rose

Jack Rose refers to a cocktail based on applejack, lemon juice and grenadine.

The Drunken Botanist, Amy Stewart
Alcools, André Dominé
Distilled Knowledge, Dave Broom  
Of course Wikipedia