Apple Brandy for Autumn

Cocktails and Spirits with Paul Clarke

Weekly insight into the world of drinks with Paul Clarke from the Cocktail Chronicles and Imbibe magazine.


Laird's Applejack, an apple brandy from the nation's oldest distillery

By late October, my tastes have typically shifted into full autumn mode, and this year is no different. The crisp, light drinks of summer have been mothballed along with the shorts and sun hats, and taking their place are drinks with a full, robust edge and a dark, season-appropriate color. While whiskey and brandy are certainly fitting, in mid-autumn the glass practically yearns for a touch of apple brandy.

In last week's Washington Post, drinks writer Jason Wilson (recently honored by the Association of Food Journalist for the "Best Newspaper Food Column") touched on the diversity of apple brandies. This is the perfect time of year to explore the category.

Apple brandy has a long and distinctive history in the United States, with the spirit produced by the nation's oldest continually operating distillery--still owned by the Laird family in New Jersey--making appearances in records of the Revolutionary War and in the diaries of George Washington. Literally, hundreds of small farm distilleries produced Applejack, New Jersey's signature spirit, during the nation's formative decades, and today artisan distilleries such as Clear Creek Distillery in Oregon and Germain-Robin in California, produce spectacular apple brandies.

Those seeking a distinctive Old World-style spirit can turn to the venerable Calvados, an apple brandy produced in several designated regions in Normandy. As Wilson notes, "Calvados was declared by A.J. Liebling, author of the classic food memoir Between Meals, to be "the best alcohol in the world." In Liebling's opinion, Calvados "has a more agreeable bouquet, a warmer touch to the heart, and more outgoing personality than cognac."

Describing Calvados as a rustic style spirit, Wilson tastes several premium bottlings, including a 25-year old Coeur de Lion and Calvados Domfrontais, the latter made from a blend of apples and pears. This style is relatively new to the market but, as Wilson notes, "has been made forever, illegally, by farmers in this region."

While I'm still quite a Calvados novice (with bottles of the older stuff sometimes costing well into the triple digits, I have a good excuse for my ignorance) I have to admit, I am greatly fond of the brands I have tried, and eager to learn more.

Are you a fan of Calvados or other apple brandies? If so, please share your favorite brands and bottlings in the comments section to help us appreciate the tastes of autumn.