Invariably the apples-and-honey motif of Rosh Hashanah that endlessly entertains my kids (aged 4 and 2) always brings my thoughts to Calvados.
Calvados is basically apple brandy, or distilled hard apple cider, made in the Normandy region of northwest France. Calvados is more often than not semisweet with aromas and flavors of apples and other fruits and spices.
A young calvados can be harsh and feisty, like a young whiskey but, like whiskey, mellows and matures beautifully with barrel aging. Calvados is best thought of as the working Frenchman’s cognac --- though prices are increasingly keeping pace with that more luxury-branded, grape-based libation.
There are some Rabbinic authorities who consider all calvados to be kosher, while others only consider certain brands to be kosher, and some require official kosher certification.
I’m only aware of one brand, Calvados Coquerel, that is certified kosher, but I’ve yet to find it anywhere here in the US.
One of my favorite brands, 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.
All three are perfectly reliable in such matters in my book. As always, those concerned should consult their local or personal kosher food authority.
Boulard Calvados, from the famed Pays d’Auge district of Normandy, is part of the super-premium end of the quality and, alas, price spectrum. Founded in 1825 by Pierre-Auguste Boulard, La Maison des Calvados Boulard, or simply "Boulard Calvados", has been family-owned and managed for five generations.
In the early 1950s Pierre Boulard (fourth generation), made a pioneering decision to export Boulard Calvados, and to this day remains the export leader. In the US alone, for example, Boulard Calvados is a brand leader with a 31 percent share of the calvados market (widely available in 38 states, and obtainable through all the major distributors in the remaining).
The current member of the Boulard family at the helm is Vincent Boulard (fifth generation), and it is he who has pushed the brand into the premium or luxury market, with its increasingly luxury-brand price-tag. Even still, however, it is worth every penny.
A.J. Liebling, the longtime New Yorker journalist and famous fresser (read "gourmand"), declared in his 1962 food memoir, Between Meals, that "Calvados … is the best alcohol in the world." To Liebling, calvados, "the veritable elixir of Eden," was much better in every respect to cognac, which he considered "precocious and superficial" by comparison, even though "millions of Frenchmen are obtuse enough to prefer cognac."
Unlike Liebling, I prefer to consider the matter unresolved and instead pursue ongoing, vigilant testing. Calvados makes for a fine drink year round, but especially when ‘apples & honey’ is the de rigueur appetizer. Without further ado: Boulard Grand Solage VSOP (40 percent abv; $50): This is unctuous, heady and bittersweet, with hints of almonds, vanilla, allspice and ginger wrapped in a slightly woody box.
Boulard Calvados XO NV (40 percent abv; $90): This is a full-bodied, rich, velvety smooth, elegant spirit with aromas and flavors of apples, sweet vanilla, cinnamon, toasted nuts, raisins, allspice, toffee and tart citrus fruits, with a lovely toasty, oily and spicy apple cider finish. A bit more spirity than appley, but so absorbing.