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Cider is transformed into Calvados via distillation, a process which consists in separating alcohol from water: when cider is heated, the alcohol it contains evaporates before water, since its boiling point is lower. The still is the instrument that enables the alcohol steam to be collected and condensed to obtain a brandy whose volatile substances constitute the key features of its bouquet.
The type of still used for the distillation is crucial.
Only the generic Calvados appellation allows a choice between the two distillation methods, in pot stills or in column stills.
The pot still distillation process
Required to obtain the « Calvados Pays d’Auge » AOC, this is a traditional still comprised of copper elements and based on a double distilling process.
The column still distillation process
Mandatory for making Calvados Domfrontais, it is also mostly used for Calvados.
It comprises three copper elements: the boiler, a distillation column separated into two cylindrical sections commonly referred to as « stripping column » and « concentration column», inside which there are plates equipped with bubbling elements and a cider heater.
The cider is poured into the top of the first column. The cider then descends from plate to plate. Under the effect of heat, the most volatile ingredients (water and esters) evaporate. The water steam produced from the stripped cider rises and is enriched by bubbling up in the cider along with the volatile elements: alcohol, esters and aromas. They are finally concentrated in the smaller column which directly produces the brandy at a maximum volume of 72%.
The column still must be equipped with three evacuation taps enabling the « heads » and « tails » to be discarded, to exclusively retain the « heart » of the distillation, with a maximum flow of 250 hl of cider per 24 hours.
Distillations using a pot still or a column still produce a colourless and astonishingly floral and fruity brandy, which gains colour and is enriched in complicity with wood and time.