The Distillation

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. 

Cider is poured into the boiler to be heated. The alcohol steam rises, to be collected in the still head before moving on to the swan neck, then the coil, which enters a cold water basin. Upon contact with the cold, the steam is condensed back to liquid form. The « heads » and « tails » (steam rich in superior alcohols from the start and the end of the distilling process), are discarded to obtain the « brouillis » or « petite-eau » with an alcohol content of 28 to 30%.
The second heat consists in distilling this « petite eau ». The heads and tails are also discarded to exclusively retain the heart of the distillation, referred to as the « bonne chauffe » (good heat). At this point, the liquid leaving the still must not exceed an alcohol content of 72%.

In an aim to curb energy consumption, cider for distilling over the following cycle is poured into the cider heater which helps cool the alcohol steam that runs through it, hence benefiting from a pre-heating process to bring it to a temperature of 65°C before returning to the boiler.  

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.

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