Not long ago, on an unseasonably cold Parisian evening, I found myself sitting at an outdoor caf?, with a large snifter of Calvados. As I slowly sipped the snifter contents, I found that it was just the perfect beverage to provide that special bit of warmth to fight off the chilled evening airs. With Sukkoth starting in October this year–which in New Jersey, as likely as not, means it’s going to be cold–I am planning to pick up a bottle of that same delightful type of liquor to enjoy in my sukkah.
Calvados is distilled apple cider, produced in Normandy, which has a history that dates back to Charlemagne, the Eighth Century King of the Franks and the first Holy Roman Emperor. One of Charlemagne’s lesser known acts was an ordinance requiring all the farms in Normandy to grow apples. In the nearly 1300 years since Charlemagne’s reign, Normandy has been conquered and re-conquered many times–by the Vikings, the French, the English, and the Germans–and through it all Normandy has had its apples... lots and lots of apples. By the sixteenth century some of Normandy’s more industrious farmers were distilling the juice of their excess apples, and thus Calvados, that most delightful of apple liquors, was born.
Calvados is often distilled from a cider that contains a blend of dozens of different apple varieties, and which is often aged for up to a year before distillation. The distillate is then aged in oak barrels for no less than two years, but often for much longer. Typically Calvados is lightly sweet, and has flavors and aromas redolent of apples, with other fruits and spices. When bottled young, Calvados can be as fiery as a young whiskey, but when well-aged it can be as smooth and supple as a fine Cognac.
There are many differing opinions regarding the kashrut of Calvados. While some kashrut authorities consider all Calvados to be kosher, others only consider certain brands to be kosher, and others still require formal kosher certification. When asked for comment, Rabbi Zvi Holland of Star-K Kosher Certification said “for Calvados we defer to European kashrut agencies.”
Fortunately, in Northern New Jersey there is one readily available brand, Boulard, which is generally accepted as kosher. Boulard is officially considered kosher without certification by the Kashruth Authority of the London Beth Din (KLBD), by the Grand Rabbinat du Bas Rhin Beth Din de Strasbourg, and by the Consistoire de Paris.
Boulard Calvados, XO, Pays d’Auge: This is the older of the two available Boulard expressions, and is unquestionably the better. It is a rich, smooth, sweet, full-bodied, burnt-copper colored blend of twice-distilled apple brandies aged between eight and forty years. This Calvados has a subtle nose of fresh apples, quince, and citrus with notes of orange blossoms, nutmeg and allspice. Look flavors of apples and citrus on the palate, turning to quince and raisins, and a long caramel-like finish with just a hint of star-anise. Score A ($74.99. Available at Petrocks Wine and Liquors, 419 Amwell Road, Hillsborough, NJ,  359-2333)
Boulard Calvados, Grand Solage, Pays d’Auge: Dark-copper in color, and just a bit fiery, this blend of three- and five-year-old Calvados has flavors and aromas of fresh apples, lemons, and nutmeg, with notes of apple blossoms and cardamom, and a pleasant hint of astringency on the finish. Score B+ ($46.99. Available of Linwood Wine and Liquor Company, 102 Linwood Plaza, Fort Lee,  944-5504).
Should one find oneself in the Sukkah on a particularly cold night, consider using a bit of Calvados to make an apple hot toddy. The following recipe is adapted from the world’s first cocktail guide, Jerry Thomas’s 1862 book, “How to Mix Drinks or the Bon Vivant’s Companion.” While Thomas’s recipe calls for white sugar as the sweetening agent, I prefer my toddies to be sweetened with honey, and in particular I like to use a rich varietal honey such as heather honey, or fireweed honey.
Hot Apple Toddy
¼ cup Calvados
1 to 2 tsp. honey of your choice
½ cup boiling water
Core a Roma, Cortland, Wine Sap, or Golden Delicious apple and bake it in a shallow baking dish at 375F for about 30 minutes. Quarter the apple, and place one quarter into the glass along with the honey and Calvados. Add the boiling water and stir until the honey is dissolved. Then grate a little nutmeg on top.
Cheers and Chag Someach.
Please note: Calvados is scored on an ‘A’-‘F’ scale where ‘A’ is excellent, ‘B’ is good, ‘C’ is flawed, ‘D’ is very flawed, and ‘F’ is undrinkable. Prices listed reflect the price at the retailer mentioned.
By Gamliel Kronemer