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10 best calvados brandies from the orchards of Normandy

This luxurious French spirit will bring a touch of sophistication to any home bar

Claire Dodd
Friday 18 February 2022 15:35 GMT
<p>This historic drink dates back at least 500 years</p>

This historic drink dates back at least 500 years

Like brandy? Love cider? Looking for a new drink to discover? Then elegant and fruity calvados may be the spirit for you.

Hailing from Normandy, unlike the grape brandies of cognac and armagnac, calvados is distilled from cider or perry. What started as a way for this orchard-rich region to preserve its fruit come harvest time has evolved into a terroir-driven spirit worthy of sipping and savouring. And though the drink dates back at least 500 years and is steadily gaining in popularity, it arguably has not yet had the widespread attention that it fully deserves.

As calvados is made from cider that is then distilled into brandy, its taste depends on its blend of bittersweet, sweet, sharp and bitter-sharp apples or pears; the terroir of the different orchards; and the casks it’s aged in, and for how long. In short, there’s a lot of variation.

For example, producers use more than 200 apple varieties. There are also three calvados-producing regions, all with their own appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC): Calvados Domfrontais, Pays d’Auge, and Calvados. And though it must be aged in French oak for at least two years, most are aged for considerably longer.

The age statement on the bottle applies to the youngest liquid in the blend. Terms you’ll commonly see include “VS”, aged for at least two years; “Reserve”, at least three years; “VSOP”, at least four years; and “XO”, at least six years.

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While younger liquids tend to be great for mixing in cocktails or serving long with tonic, older products demand to be sipped slowly. There are currently about 300 producers still making the spirit – many are very traditional with storied histories. But there are also new brands, such as Avallen, looking to shake things up.

How we tested

In our list of the best, we’ve considered taste, value for money, mixability where applicable, and depth of flavour, as well as how suitable each is for those who are newly discovering the category, as well as those that already love it. Here’s our round-up of the best.

The best calvados brandies for 2022 are:

  • Best overall – Avallen calvados, 40%: £34.99,
  • Best silver award winner – Chateau du Breuil calvados pays d’auge 15 ans 41%: £68.25,
  • Best for a long finish – Calvados Morin 20 ans pays d’auge XO, 42%: £93.06,
  • Best premium calvados – Boulard XO auguste calvados pays d’auge, 40%: £149.99,
  • Best pear dominant calvados – Calvados Domfrontais hors d’age domaine pacory, 42%: £39.95,
  • Best calvados for drinking over ice – Domaine Dupont VSOP calvados, 42%: £50.45,
  • Best for bright fruit notes – Calvados Michel Huard hors d'age, 40%: £52.95,
  • Best calvados for cocktails – Christian Drouin XO calvados pays d’auge, 40%: £70,
  • Best for pairing with cheese – Berneroy VSOP Calvados, 40%: £33.75,
  • Best for value – Père Magloire calvados pays d’auge VSOP, 40%: £22.49,

Avallen calvados

Best: Overall

Rating: 9/10

  • ABV: 40%
  • Size: 70cl

Described by the brand as an “environmentally positive” apple brandy, Avallen’s entire production process, from the pesticide-free orchards to the labels made from waste fruit pulp, is intended to be as sustainable as possible. A contribution to the Bumble Bee Conservation Trust is made for each bottle sold, and the brand even committed to planting 10,000 flowering plants in its first three years of business.

Taste-wise, this is an approachable but still flavoursome introduction to calvados. Made using 40 different varieties from 300 different orchards, all located in the heart of La Manche, Normandy, its key identifiers are floral, fruity and fresh. It’s been aged for two years in French oak, then bottled with no added sugar, caramel or boisé. Beautifully ripe on the nose, there are apple cider notes, a little pepper and a hint of cinnamon. Serve long with tonic if you’re looking for something simple, and garnish with a wedge of apple.

Chateau du Breuil calvados pays d’auge 15 ans

Best: Silver award winner

Rating: 9/10

  • ABV: 41%
  • Size: 70cl

With its waxed lid and red-rope fastening, opening a bottle of this one feels like a ceremony in itself. Winner of a silver award at the World Calvados Awards, and a gold at the International Wine and Spirit Competition, you don’t have to just take our word for it that it’s good. With the youngest liquid in this aged for 15 years, we also think it represents excellent value for money. Fresh and deeply fruity on the nose, there’s also intense apple to sip, followed by a little chocolate, cinnamon spice and almonds, with a dry finish. 

Calvados Morin 20 ans pays d’auge XO

Best: For a long finish

Rating: 9/10

  • ABV: 42%
  • Size: 70cl

Aged for at least 20 years, and hailing from one of Normandy’s oldest producers, you definitely get what you pay for with this premium treat. Morin has been distilling since 1889 and, if the price of this one is a little too much, the good news is there are plenty of younger liquids in the range. Look out for both the 15- and 10-year-olds, which start from about £60. In the XO you’ll find beautiful baked apple, vanilla, a little fudge, gingerbread, blossom, and a long, fresh finish. A delight.

Boulard XO auguste calvados pays d’auge

Best: Premium calvados

Rating: 8/10

  • ABV: 40%
  • Size: 70cl

A splurge, a treat, an indulgence, if you will. With its thick, velvet mouthfeel, beautifully bold fruit and long, slow, almond-like finish, followed by a burst of even more fruit, this calvados sips beautifully from start to finish. This particular tipple is named in homage to the distillery’s founder, Pierre Auguste, who opened it in 1825.

From the etched bottle to its incredibly well-rounded taste, it is worth the premium price tag. Just let this one sit in the mouth for a while, and enjoy its bold flavours developing, from candied fruits and apple to almond and gingerbread, right through to a little oak and vanilla.

Calvados Domfrontais hors d’age domaine pacory

Best: Pear-dominant calvados

Rating: 8/10

  • ABV: 42%
  • Size: 70cl

This family-run estate in the Bocage Domfrontais region grows more than 50 different species of pear and about 20 of apples. Reflecting its orchards, this twice-distilled calvados contains a high concentration of pear, at about 70 per cent of the blend, which is then aged in oak. It stands out, with the wood adding to the pear, preserving the flavours of the fruit with a little sweetness, buttery toast and spice. 

Domaine Dupont VSOP calvados

Best: Calvados for drinking over ice

Rating: 8/10

  • ABV: 42%
  • Size: 70cl

The Dupont family has been making its calvados and ciders since 1887, and has more than 30 acres of its own orchards. Just like for wines, terroir is important when it comes to calvados production. The chalky soils of the Pays d’Auge region, for example, produce small but intensely flavoured apples. There’s a broad range of vintages and expressions to choose from, all double-distilled and aged in oak barrels for between two and 40 years.

We’ve chosen the VSOP, aged for five years, for its soft, rounded notes with a touch of spice. This is a smooth, mellow sipper that opens up to a little brioche, oak, vanilla, fudge and some leather. It's plenty good enough to sip neat (we recommend at room temperature), over ice, or with a drop of water. 

Calvados Michel Huard hors d’age

Best: For bright fruit notes

Rating: 8/10

  • ABV: 40%
  • Size: 70cl

Ahh, breathe it in. This fruity number has all the delectable aromas of a freshly baked apple pie. And with vanilla, a little wood, almond, and some green apple notes, it tastes like it too. Made from a blend of three different vintages, and aged for 10 years, you’ll also find a little pepper on the satisfyingly long finish. It’s both a treat, and an incredibly easy calvados to take your time with, and sip neat.

Christian Drouin XO calvados pays d’auge

Best: Calvados for cocktails

Rating: 7/10

  • ABV: 40%
  • Size: 70cl

A little spice and depth from the House of Drouin, this XO calvados is made from bitter, bittersweet, sweet and sharp cider apples, double-distilled in copper stills, then aged in former bordeaux, sherry and cognac casks. We love the rich, ripe apple with a little citrus, gingerbread and hint of apricot and raisin. It's great to sip on its own and, though some may say it's sacrilege, the beautiful fruity notes mean it’s great in cocktails too.

It is currently out of stock but you can sign up for emails to be notified when it’s back.

Berneroy VSOP calvados

Best: For pairing with cheese

Rating: 7/10

  • ABV: 40%
  • Size: 70cl

Offering both incredible value for a liquid of its age, as well as a satisfyingly fruity sip, this offering from Berneroy is aged for about eight years in Limousin oak. You’ll find the characteristic baked apple, a little wood, some butterscotch, and a beautifully butter-rich mouthfeel. Grab your favourite blue cheese, and enjoy.

Père Magloire calvados pays d’auge VSOP

Best: For value

Rating: 7/10

  • ABV: 40%
  • Size: 70cl

Dating back to 1821, this brand is named after a Norman innkeeper who was known for serving remarkable calvados. And though there’s quite a range to choose from (if you can find it, the 20-year-old is something special), we’ve opted for the VSOP.  

Made with apples taken exclusively from the Pays d'Auge area of Normandy, it's double-distilled and aged in oak casks for at least four years before being blended and bottled. We love its bright, floral aroma, with a little jasmine and rose, and the rich honey, vanilla, hazelnut, and butterscotch notes. We think it’s a bargain too. 

The verdict: Calvados

For its approachability, great taste, good value, versatility and its eco-credentials, we think Avallen is both a good first step into calvados for those new to the spirit, as well as a satisfying option for those who already love it.

However, for those looking for a sophisticated splurge, the Boulard XO auguste is beautiful, while the Calvados Domfrontais hors d'age domaine pacory also offers great value.

Voucher codes

For the latest discounts on brandy, spirits and other drinks buys, try the links below:

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