June 2018's Selection - Christian Drouin Calvados
Calvados is an often overlooked category in the UK, something we wanted to rectify. When done well it can match or even exceed the traditional big beasts of the aged-spirits world: whisky and brandy.
Just as brandy is distilled wine and whisky is basically distilled beer, calvados is distilled cider. But not just any old cider. Christian Drouin produces its cider from 30 varieties of apple (and a small amount of pear) grown in organic orchards around Gonneville-sur-Honfleur in Normandy, northern France. Strongbow this ain’t.
Christian Drouin's Réserve des Fiefs is a blend of calvados aged from three to six years. It combines fresh apple flavours with smooth spices and vanilla from the wood.
Drouin resides in the Pays d’Auge appellation d’origine contrôlée, generally considered the "best" of the three calvados AOCs. The orchards have shallow soils rich in clay and limestone, spread over rolling hills. Drouin uses a very apple-heavy cider mix, with only 2-5 percent pear. The results in a “very round style” with a soft mouth that “grows in time with a lot of complexity,” Guillaume Drouin, grandson of the company’s founder, told us in an interview.
The story of the distillery begins in 1960, when Christian Drouin became the owner of the Fiefs Sainte Anne estate near Honfleur. The farm was planted with cider-apple trees and he soon decided to produce his own calvados, more as a hobby than a serious business. With the help of a local distiller, Pierre Pivet, he spent the next 20 years producing calvados and setting it aside without selling much. He also acquired several batches of very old calvados when the estates of some reputed regional producers were sold.
By 1979 Christian and his son, also called Christian, began marketing their calvados to high-end restaurants and hotels in France and overseas. At the time calvados was mainly a regional beverage consumed by the working class of Normandy with meals or coffee. In 1991-92 Christian junior transferred production to another 17th-century farm in Coudray-Rabut near Pont l’Evèque, to meet growing demand.
In 2004 the third generation of Drouins joined the firm. Guillaume Drouin gradually took on more responsibilities before becoming general manager in 2013. To this day Guillaume and his father, Christian junior, create the calvados blends together. The company now exports to 50 different countries.
“We’re not a big player in terms of volume and that’s not what we’re aiming to be,” Guillaume told us. “We want to be in all the good restaurants and hotels.”