Happy cows at the Giard/Montreuil farm in Normandy, France.

Apples To Apples

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Apples are one of the most diverse agricultural crops (with more than 7,500 known varieties), but they are overlooked in terms of quality, because they are often associated with sweet, cloying ciders and boring varieties sold on grocery store shelves.  This is unfortunate. Luckily we have been seeking out producers – some classic and some new – that elevate this humble fruit to serious, world-class libations, and couldn’t be more excited about our finds.

Apples have long been cultivated in Europe. From the ciders and Calvados of Normandy to the funky, tangy ciders of the Basque regions of France and Spain, the culture of food and drink is well-documented. Sancho III of Navarre sent an envoy to the Monastery of Leyre in northern Navarre, Spain in the year 1014, and upon his arrival, made note of the cider-making taking place. This is the earliest mention in Spanish records of apples in regards to cider production. Nowadays there are annual parties at each sagardotegi (cider house) to celebrate the release of the new cider vintage with cider poured straight from the barrel and traditional Basque pairings of cod omelets and heaps of steak. Further north in France the Greek geographer, Strabo, mentioned the proliferation of apple trees and a cider-like drink while mapping Normandy around the year 50 C.E. and Charlemagne (the noted King of the Franks in the 9th century) ordered skilled brewers to consistently produce cider for his kingdom. These traditions are alive and well in these regions with many producers sticking to their roots and making products from techniques passed down through the generations.

In the Americas, these types of refreshments date to the early colonists who had a penchant for English-style cider: a dry, slightly effervescent drink that was as common at the dinner table as bread. After many years of cider apples falling out of fashion among growers (due to lower yields and a smaller market for these bitter, astringent fruits), we are now experiencing a renaissance with new producers crafting serious products from eclectic ciders to Calvados-inspired spirits. We are excited to see where it leads! Tim Gagnon

Orchard Hill NV Ten66 375 ml

Orchard Hill was started in 2005 by all-around spirits guru, Karl du Hoffman, in the Hudson Valley town of New Hampton, NY. They focus on two products here - cider and pommeau - and we were thrilled to be able to get our hands on the latter. Inspired by the famed Normandy elixir of calvados and non-alcoholic sweet cider, Karl wanted to make a product that was true to the apples of the Hudson Valley yet echoed centuries of pommeau production in France. Aptly named Ten66 after the Norman Invasion of England in the year 1066, this is a blend of 3-10 year-old apple brandy and cider of various vintages from 2005-2012 that have been aged in used French oak barrels from wineries on Long Island (that held Merlot or Chardonnay in their previous life). Apple butter, apple cobbler, caramel, toasted nutmeg, and baked cherry come to mind on the nose which hint at what is found on the palate. It is juicy with deeper notes of caramel and spice. This is delicious served slightly chilled as an aperitif but would be equally good with a cheese course after dinner! Tim Gagnon

  • brandy
  • 2 in stock
  • no discount
  • $44.99

Neversink Spirits New York Apple Brandy 375ml

This exquisitely clear apple brandy comes in one of the cutest printed packages in the store, but that shouldn’t be the only reason for you to buy it. The fact is that this is one of the most delicious ways to experience New York’s abundant apple crop’s flavors. The apples growing on Neversink’s organic farm were selected for their high acid and high tannic character (not great for eating, but essential to creating delicious ciders and spirits). The mash is then twice distilled which makes for a bright, delicate spirit that truly showcases the quality of the raw ingredients used. In Europe, brandies like this are enjoyed neat after dinner but current cocktail creators are experimenting with all sorts of uses: the most simple being a touch of sugar and a squeeze of citrus for an apple-infused take on a Sour. Tim Gagnon

  • eau-de-vie
  • 1 in stock
  • no discount
  • $34.99

  • Organic

Camut Pommeau de Domaine de Semainville Apéritif Normand

Looking for something new to try before or after your dinner? How about a Pommeau? Pommeau is the traditional blend of Calvados and unfermented apple cider that hardly ever makes its way out of Normandy. Very similar to Cognac’s Pineau des Charentes, Pommeau combines the fruity unfermented apple sugars spiked with a touch of aged brandy. In the fall it makes a wonderful apéritif, but for those afraid of sugary pre-dinner drinks, it would be delicious with cheese, and out-of-this-world with deserts featuring apples. Camut makes what is likely the best Calvados in the grand Cru “Pays d’Auge,” so it’s no surprise that their Pommeau is the best we have ever tasted.  John Rankin

  • brandy
  • 9 in stock
  • no discount
  • $42.99

Camut Calvados Pays d'Auge Réserve de Semainville 25 ans d'âge

This bottling shows warm, baked apple flavors with delicious layers of oak and honey. The finish lasts and lasts, and even at 25 years of age the apple fruit is still intact and quite succulent. There are older Calvados from the estate, but to me this is the apex of fruit and oak with neither side overwhelming the other. This is a true experience and a wonderfully rare treat. John Rankin

  • brandy
  • 3 in stock
  • no discount
  • $249.99

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Shacksbury 1840 Craft Cider 500 ML

David Dolginow and Colin Davis started their cidery in Shoreham, VT in 2013 with the goal of making honest and true ciders that speak of where they come from. With the help of local farmers, they are in the process of bringing heirloom apple varieties with 100+ years of history in the Champlain Valley back to life by identifying which apples they want to work with and grafting them to trees in their orchards. The 1840 Limited Release is their first bottling of this project. Made from 35 identified varieties, all of which were locally foraged, this is a restrained and serious style of cider. It is fermented with native yeasts and goes through secondary fermentation in bottle. On the nose it is woodsy and citrusy with notes of grapefruit skin, herbs, salted caramel, and lavender. It has a light fizz on the palate with salty minerals and a touch of citrus before finishing dry with a jolt of acidity. Tim Gagnon

  • Out of Stock
  • white sparkling
  • 0 in stock
  • no discount
  • $22.99

Shacksbury Classic Dry Cider 500 ML

David Dolginow and Colin Davis created this dry, English-style cider in collaboration with two farms: Sunrise Orchards in Cornwall, Vermont and Dragon Orchards in Herefordshire, England. It is a blend of 7 different apple varieties (Browns, Ellis Bitter, Dabinett, Michelin, Jonagold, Spartan, and Somerset Redstreak) that are co-fermented and aged for 6 months before release. It is fresh with aromas of apple, pine, mango, and citrus oil. On the palate, it is dry and clean with minerals, citrus, and ripe apple fruit with medium-sized bubbles. This is a great choice for before, during, or after a holiday feast or for an alternative to beer while watching football. Tim Gagnon

  • Out of Stock
  • white sparkling
  • 0 in stock
  • $8.99

Wayside NV American Cider "Catskill"

Located on High Meadows Farm in East Delhi, NY, Wayside Cider is a newcomer to the ongoing trend of American cider makers that are not looking to Europe for their inspiration, but taking a more local approach that reflects the rich agricultural history of New York. They work with foraged apples from wild, abandoned trees and then graft the varieties they find to trees in their own orchards. The owners, Irene Hussey and Alex Wilson, tend an organic vegetable garden and also focus on livestock rearing (namely pigs, which help to manage waste from the cider making process), making for a truly self-sustaining farm. The Catskill is their flagship cider and is made from the aforementioned wild apples. It is aged partially in used bourbon barrels from a local distillery which helps to mellow the tangy acidity. Bright, crisp, and woodsy with a hint of vanilla and spice on the nose, it is ever so slightly effervescent with a saltiness that is balanced by bourbon spice making for a distinct and food-friendly cider. Tim Gagnon

  • Out of Stock
  • white sparkling off-dry
  • 0 in stock
  • $19.99

Aaron Burr Hemlock Apple Cider

Andy and Polly Giragosian are the husband-and-wife team behind the Aaron Burr Cidery in Wurtsboro, NY. They purchased their 100-acre homestead in 2006 and quickly set about replanting the apple trees that once flourished in Catskills. The apples in this cider are harvested from local orchards that have not been sprayed with any pesticides, and are fermented with natural yeasts before being bottled unfined, unfiltered, adding a touch of their homemade maple syrup, but zero sulfur. The name Hemlock is derived from the fact that they are “dry hopping” this cider with locally foraged hemlock shoots, which gives it distinct citrus oil and pine aromas and a pleasantly bitter, floral, evergreen-tinged finish. It is dry, slightly fizzy, musky, earthy, and downright delicious. Only 80 cases made! Tim Gagnon

  • Out of Stock
  • white sparkling
  • 0 in stock
  • no discount
  • $24.99

  • No Sulfur

Zapiain NV Sagardoa Cider

This is classic, natural cider from the Basque region of Spain! Plenty of tart citrus and apple flavors with a subtle earthiness are found on the nose and the palate, with a gentle salinity, sharp acidity, and a touch of effervescence. Serve chilled, but not cold, with the following instructions from the Zapiain website:  “Once the cork has been removed, pour the cider from a certain, not excessive height of about 20 cm into a tumbler glass, and consume the cider poured into the glass in one go. The glass should be emptied. The cider should be either in the bottle or in our stomach, as the less time it remains in the glass, the better.” Tim Gagnon

  • Out of Stock
  • white sparkling
  • 0 in stock
  • $10.99

Bordelet 2014 Sparkling Pear Cider Poiré Authentique

Eric Bordelet was a super star in the wine and restaurant world before shifting his attention to orchard fruits and returning to his home town in southern Normandy’s Domfrontais region. Here pears replace apples as the primary ingredient in both Cidre and Calvados because the pear tree’s deep root system tunnels easily into the region’s dry soils. One might assume that a cider made of pears would turn out to be super sweet as many pears that we eat out of hand are, but the fifteen old varieties used are "sauvages," not table fruit, and have roaring acidity and a lovely astringency that combine to give ciders structure and undeniable freshness. Eric’s Authentique displays those qualities flawlessly and combines complex flavors of creamy orchard fruit, white meadow flowers, and a sappy, slightly off dry finish. I couldn’t think of a better match to one of Normandy’s great, creamy cow’s milk cheeses – say ripe camembert? John Rankin

  • Out of Stock
  • white sparkling off-dry
  • 0 in stock
  • no discount
  • $15.99

  • Biodynamic

Bordelet 2013 Sparkling Pear Cider Poiré Granit

Eric’s oldest heirloom pear trees (over 300 years old!) have vast roots that tap the soil’s granite deposits for a maximum blast of Norman minerality. As in his other ciders, fermentation continues in the bottle like the world’s finest sparkling wines, but this particular cuvée shows an incredibly refined bead, vinosity, and elegance that I’ve never tasted from apples or pears. There’s probably more than a little residual sugar floating around, but the impressive amount of dry, stony extract makes this bottle just as sophisticated a drink as most Champagnes. Granite is very highly recommended as an example of cider’s potential. John Rankin

  • Out of Stock
  • white sparkling
  • 0 in stock
  • no discount
  • $27.99

  • Biodynamic

Bordelet NV Sparkling Apple Cider Sidre Tendre

The Bordelet pear and apple ciders are a big hit on Thanksgiving, low alcohol too, so the kids get a sip or two. Also arriving on Tuesday: Poire "Granit" and Poiré Authentique.

An apple cider from one of Normandy’s best, Tendre combines classic orchard flavors of ripe apples (Kermerien, Douce Moene, Frequin Rouge, Damelot, Marie Menard and 25 more) and a savory/sweet undercurrent of barley and dark honey. Compared to Bordelet’s pear offerings I find this to be more “beer-esque” than “wine-esque” so bring on the brats, or in true Norman fashion blood sausage, tripe, or perhaps for a lighter meal: crêpes. As with all his ciders, the farm is certified biodynamic and fermentation finishes in the bottle for a complex texture filled with small vivacious bubbles. John Rankin

  • Out of Stock
  • white sparkling off-dry
  • 0 in stock
  • no discount
  • $10.99

  • Biodynamic

Harvest Spirits 'Cornelius' Apple Jack

Harvest Spirits is part farm, cidery, and distillery in the Hudson Valley’s Columbia County. Apples are the focus, and the production of cider and apple distillates are the property’s strong suit. We’ve long been fans of their fantastic “Core” Vodka, and so when we heard that they were releasing New York’s first Applejack we were properly excited. Luckily, the spirit hit the mark! This is a pale-gold colored brandy which tastes of a beautiful medley of the farm’s apple cider and the used Bourbon barrels that it rests in for two years. Finally, New Yorkers can make classic applejack cocktails with a 100% local apple distillate instead of buying the brand from across the Hudson that uses quite a bit of neutral grain spirit.  John Rankin

  • Out of Stock
  • fruit liqueur
  • 0 in stock
  • no discount
  • $39.99

Camut Calvados Pays d'Auge 'Privilège' 18 ans d'âge

This is the Calvados that made the Camut estate famous. Compared to other Calvados on the market at the time of its introduction it was round, supple and elegant. Connoisseurs sip it from a white wine glass while deriders called it Calvados des Femmes. This spirit shows incredible poise and balance -- one of France’s best spirits. John Rankin

  • Out of Stock
  • brandy
  • 0 in stock
  • no discount
  • $174.99

Montreuil NV Calvados du Pays d'Auge Reserve

Montreuil is a collaboration between Calvados importer and guru Charles Neal and Patrice Giard – heir to the bucolic Giard estate in the hamlet of Montreuil. Cows (primarily used for their milk) provide the majority of the farm’s revenue, but the property has made quite a name for itself for their library of aged Calvados still in barrel that will be released under the Giard label. The Montreuil label represents barrels averaging 7 years old that provide rich, apple fruit with a touch of wood vanillin and toffee sweetness. A great value for sipping, but also not too dear to use as a stand-in for American applejack in classic cocktails like a Jack Rose:2 ounces apple brandy or calvados, ¾ ounce lime or lemon juice, and ¾ ounce grenadine; served up.  John Rankin

  • Out of Stock
  • brandy
  • 0 in stock
  • no discount
  • $39.99