Monday, July 8, 2019

Bourbon cask-finished Calvados: a crossover idea that works

New American oak in wine has a certain reputation, but it's a different story when the barrels are used.

This is what makes Bourbon cask-finished Calvados interesting. You might think it's going to taste woodier than ordinary Calvados, but it doesn't. In fact, it's a fine fit.

Boulard released a small batch, just 500 cases globally, of Calvados finished in Bourbon casks. All Calvados is aged in oak, but this spirit is unusual because France is full of French oak, whereas Bourbon must by law be aged in charred white American oak.

American oak tends to give strong flavors of vanilla, and a slight sweetness. It's a huge part of the reason Bourbon has been so phenomenally successful for the last decade: those are popular flavors.

Strong vanilla might overpower the fruit flavors of Calvados, which is apple brandy from Normandy. But just a hint, along with a light sweetness? It's not hard to see how that can work.

In fact, it does. Boulard Calvados Bourbon Cask Finish is fine straight. It's not as complex as the greatest of Calvadoses (Calvadi?), but it has pleasant apple flavor and is smooth enough to sip.

The best use for this, though, could be in cocktails, as a substitute for whiskey in an Old Fashioned or similar spiritous drink. It has just enough structure from the oak to pull off the substitution and it gives the drink a delightful apple character. At under $60 a bottle, you can afford to do this at home. That may sound expensive, but my onetime go-to Calvados, a 6-year-old, now costs double that.

Boulard says this is just the beginning of a 12-bottle series of different finishes. Yikes! I'm not sure most of these are going to work. I live in fear of cacha├ža cask-finished Calvados.

But I understand the initiative. Calvados is one of the world's great spirits but it isn't getting much attention in an era when whiskey is hot, mezcal is even hotter and rum seems to be making a comeback. The traditional means of drinking Calvados -- straight, at room temperature -- holds it back in today's spirits market, where basically everything that sells, sells on the rocks. Cognac makers have embraced cocktails. Calvados has a lot to offer mixologists, but it isn't in very many classic cocktail recipes so it isn't front of mind.

If Bourbon casks can help the Cognac industry find a new generation, hurray for another success from the great France-US alliance.

Half of the 500 cases of this were sent to the US market. Buy it here.

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1 comment:

Bob Rossi said...

" Calvados is one of the world's great spirits but it isn't getting much attention in an era when whiskey is hot, mezcal is even hotter and rum seems to be making a comeback."
Sssh, don't you go giving it too much attention. I have no interest in the other spirits, but I do like Calvados.

The discussion of American oak reminds me of a line I once heard from someone in the wine business: What is American oak best used for? A- Making furniture.