Updated on 23 June 2020
Reading time: 4 minutes
Mention Normandy and its food springs to mind, alongside calvados apple brandy, one of the region’s best-known products. The region’s oldest calvados distillery, Busnel in the town of Cormeilles, celebrates its 200th birthday this year so we went along to to see what all the fuss was about
A family affair
Two hundred years of history is quite something. It was in 1820 that Ernest Busnel set up his business in Pont-l’Evêque to start producing Calvados, just one year before Père Magloire. Along with Madame Quetel they took a selection of Pays-d’Auge farms that made the best local eau de vie. On the back of his success,the Busnel brand began to be marketed in the United States – but only once Prohibition was lifted! Then it went global. At the end of the 1970s, the company modernised and moved to the town of Cormeilles. The distillery’s crowning achievement was to be awarded the coveted prize in the 2018 World Drinks Award when Busnel was awarded the Best XO Calvados prize.
Once the cider apples have been gathered, the first step is fermenting. The cider apples are washed, crushed and then pressed. The resulting juice is kept in barrels for at least three months, where it is transformed into cider. The yeast from the underside of the apple peel transforms the sugars into ethanol. The cellar master is now ready to begin the distillation process.
The distillation process consists of heating up the cider and then letting condense in order to isolate the ethanol and the aromatic molecules it holds. In the Pays d’Auge, the cellar master uses a still. There are two phases to the distillation; the first lasts seven hours and gives a cloudy liquid called a brouillis which has about 35% alcohol. This is then returned to the boiler for a second distillation which lasts 11 hours. The 70% alcohol Calvados AOC Pays d’Auge is now ready to be aged.
Calvados is left to age for at least two years in oak casks before it is bottled. During this process, the first hints of blossom and fruit begin to emerge, later followed by a touch of almond, vanilla, dry fruit, and liquorice. The cellar master’s job is to find the perfect balance of flavours, the chief characteristic of Busnel Calvados. The longer in the cask, the more complex the taste, as it draws out the tannins from the oak cask. The Calvados is then taken to the bottling plant where, at peak times, over 5,000 bottles an hour can be filled and made ready to sell.
After your visit to the Busnel distillery, your guide will invite you to taste some Calvados. The ‘young’ variety will taste sweeter and, to those not used to Calvados, easier on the palette. Varieties that have been aged in the cask for 20 years or longer will taste more complex, a guarantee of quality. For example, Calvados is said to taste ‘marvellous’ when it is at least 40 years old. The tasting session following your tour is a great chance to see what varieties of Calvados you like best before you head to the shop and buy some to take home!
The Busnel distillery sells over a million bottles of Calvados a year. In order to appeal to younger consumers, it has modernised its image. To celebrate its 200th birthday, a new range of Calvados has been introduced, with new flavours such as banana, pineapple and coffee-orange. From now on, Calvados will be reinventing itself and starring in all kinds of amazing cocktails across Normandy. Enjoy!*
Route de Lisieux, 27260 Cormeilles