With a sweet and tart taste that warms the body and spirit, apple brandy is a liqueur that is perfectly suited to the holiday season. Most brandies (such as cognac) are made from wine, however apple brandy is made from the distillation of hard, dry cider of specially grown apples – often numerous varieties.
The most famous type of apple brandy is known as Calvados, which is produced in the Normandy region in France. Apple brandy has been enjoyed there since the time of Charlemagne in the 8th century. Just as Champagne is a premium type of sparkling wine, Calvados is a special kind of apple brandy that is double distilled from fermented apples and aged for two years in oak casks. Usually served in a snifter as an after-dinner drink or digestif, apple brandy is 70-120 proof (35-60 percent alcohol by volume) and like all liqueurs, is a sweet and warming treat.
Apple brandy produced in the United States is called applejack. Made with the country’s favorite fruit, it is perfectly suited for the American palate. Try apple brandy, applejack or Calvados in the following recipes and you’ll understand why this liqueur has been warming bellies for over 1200 years.
1. Pommeau – Start your dinner experience with a pommeau, which is an aperitif, a lightly alcoholic before-dinner beverage designed to stimulate the appetite. In a Champagne flute, mix 1/3 apple brandy with 2/3 fresh apple juice. Serve with blue cheese and melon for a refreshing start to your dinner (makes 1 serving).
2. Old Fashioned Apple Brandy Cocktail – Blending apple spirits with maple syrup, this cocktail is just perfect for a cold winter day. Stir together two ounces of apple brandy with one teaspoon of Grade A maple syrup and a dash of bitters. Add a few cubes of ice and stir again until nice and chilled. Garnish with a fresh slice of apple (makes 1 serving).
3. Apple Brandy Hot Toddy – The hot toddy is a popular winter drink, and it gets a remix in this warming cocktail that has a touch of caffeine for an effective pick-me-up. On the stovetop in a large saucepan, boil 2 quarts of apple juice until syrupy and reduced to 1 ½ cups (about 45 minutes). Add 1 ½ cups of fresh brewed black tea (such as English breakfast) and 1 ½ cups apple brandy, heating until hot (but not boiling). Pour into a heated mug and garnish each with a cinnamon stick (makes 8 servings).
4. Trou Normand – Mealtime in Normandy is punctuated in the middle by a trou normand or “Norman hole,” which is a glass of apple brandy imbibed between courses. The liqueur improves the appetite by aiding digestion and creating a “hole” in the stomach where the next course can go – and it also cleanses the palate. The French know a thing or two about eating, and this traditional method works well to help your stomach process a multi-course meal.
5. Brandied Strawberries – A refreshing way to serve fresh fruit for dessert, brandied strawberries are delicious paired with cheesecake, pound cake, pancakes or on their own with a dollop of heavy whipped cream. Simply wash and de-stem your strawberries, then place in a mixing bowl. Drizzle with apple brandy (about 1 teaspoon per berry) and let macerate for one hour at room temperature. Serve for dessert – an easy way to impress guests!