What is Cider Brandy?

Cider brandy, often known as Calvados in France, is a unique type of brandy distilled from apple or pear cider. Its production, deeply rooted in regions like Normandy, France, and Somerset, UK, follows a traditional process that ensures a distinct flavour profile, rich with the essence of its primary ingredients – apples and pears. It normally ranges from 37.5 – 42% ABV.

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martin harris

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How is cider brandy made?

The process of making cider brandy begins with selecting from a multitude of apple varieties. The choice of apples, which may include sweet, tart, and bitter types, is crucial as it influences the flavour of the final product. After harvesting, these apples are pressed and fermented into dry cider. The next crucial step is distillation, which concentrates the alcohol and flavours. At this point, the cider brandy can be either served immediately or aged. Aging, often in oak casks, is not mandatory but can add a premium character to the brandy, similar to other aged spirits. This aging process can enhance the brandy with a smoother texture and more complex flavours and aromas, though it’s not a requisite step in cider brandy production.

Regional Variations

Cider brandy, while sharing a common heritage, exhibits diverse characteristics influenced by its region of production. Normandy’s Calvados is arguably the most renowned, celebrated for its exclusive use of local apple and, occasionally, pear varieties. This regional specialty is not just a drink but a reflection of Normandy’s rich terroir. Similarly, in the UK, Somerset cider brandy stands out with its distinct profile, having earned European protected geographical indication (PGI) status in 2011. Creating the exact product comes with a multitude of legal requirements such as apple variety, minimum aging time, and production methods. Herefordshire has also seen a large growth in cider brandy products over the last few years as it has grown in popularity. These regional variants not only add to the richness of history but also offer a palette of flavours unique to their origins.

Tasting and Serving

Younger cider brandies are marked by their fresh apple and pear aromas, while the older varieties develop deeper, more complex flavours, akin to other aged brandies. The ideal way to enjoy cider brandy is in a tulip-shaped snifter, sans ice, to fully appreciate its flavours. Traditionally savored as a post-dinner digestif, it can also be served mixed with other apple-based drinks to strengthen the flavour, such as mulled cider with cider brandy which is one of my favourites.


The History

Tracing back to the 8th century, the mention of apple orchards and brewers by Charlemagne highlights the long-standing significance of apples in European culture. However, it was the catastrophic phylloxera outbreak in the late 19th century that marked a pivotal moment. This plague decimated grape vineyards across France, leading to a significant shift from grape-based brandies to fruit-based alternatives like cider brandy. The region of Normandy, with its abundant apple orchards, became a hub for the production of Calvados, a premier form of apple brandy, gaining prominence and recognition. In England, dating back to 1560 records of its production can be seen.

Cider brandy cocktails

Today, cider brandy is more than just a traditional spirit; it’s a versatile ingredient in modern gastronomy and mixology. Its unique flavour profile makes it a favored choice for innovative cocktails and culinary creations. Beyond the bars and kitchens, cider brandy continues to charm connoisseurs and casual drinkers alike, maintaining its place as a beloved, albeit sometimes lesser-known, member of the brandy family.


What is the cider brandy made of?

The primary ingredient in cider brandy is apples, and sometimes pears, which are fermented into dry cider and then distilled into brandy.

How long is cider brandy aged?

Cider brandy is typically aged for a minimum of two years in oak barrels, but many varieties are aged for much longer to develop a smoother, more complex flavour, although none is required.

What food pairs well with cider brandy?

Cider brandy pairs wonderfully with a range of foods, especially cheese, charcuterie, and fruit-based desserts, enhancing the flavours of both the drink and the dish.

Is cider brandy the same as calvados?

While all Calvados is cider brandy, not all cider brandy is Calvados, as cider brandy can be produced in other regions and countries without the same stringent requirements they have in Normandy, France. Calvados can also be made from pears as well as apples.

How much alcohol is in cider brandy?

The alcohol content in cider brandy is typically around 40% ABV. This standard is achieved through a process of reduction by the cellar master.