Normandy natives have been producing the mighty Calvados (aka apple brandy) for years, but one distillery in the Pays d’Auge has now started producing a tipple that holds a special place in many a Brit’s heart: gin.
The Calvados Christian Drouin distillery in the village of Coudray Rabut has been passed down three generations to Guillaume Drouin, a qualified oenologist and agronomist, who took over the family business after having first worked in the wine and rum industries. Alongside his father, he has played an active role since 2004, both in the aging of the Calvados and in creating existing and new blends.
I met Guillaume for the first time on an appropriately titled ‘Spirits of Normandy’ press trip, while accompanied by three British journalists keen to learn more about how he distilled his Norman take on gin. We were struck by two things: his fantastic English and more importantly, his passion for what he does. What’s more, Guillaume’s sheer love of blending new flavours has led him to expand the business in a completely new direction, by creating gin from the apples in his orchards!
So what spurred this decision? Guillaume explains that the use of Calvados in cocktails was on the rise, which led him to ask himself whether there might be scope for other cocktail-friendly spirits to be produced at the distillery. Gin, a British favourite, seemed to him a wonderfully perplex drink with infinite possibilities. He set himself the target of finding out how gin was produced, how he could make not just a gin, but a great gin, and most importantly, how he could make a great gin using resources already readily available to him: apples.
The seasoning, he reasoned, would need to balance, complete and enhance juniper and cider apples. After distilling various plants separately, Guillaume opted for eight components: juniper berries, ginger, vanilla, cinnamon, cardamon, almonds, lemon, and rose. Next he made small batches of gin, each slightly different, to see which resulted in the best blend of these components and their unique aromas.
‘Rose and lemon provide delicacy. Ginger, vanilla, cinnamon and almond give the gin a smooth, spicy body, while cardamon enhances its fruit and roundness in the mouth. Juniper and apple complement one another with their heavy or high notes, spicy or crisp’ – Guillaume Drouin
Guillaume’s gin contains 30 varieties of apple varieties: bitter, bitter-sweet, sweet and tart, forming a rich, complex aromatic palette. In the autumn, the apples are grated and pressed, and after fermenting slowly throughout the winter, they are double-distilled in small copper stills the following year. The resulting spirit lends Christian Drouin Gin a certain roundness and delicacy, as well as its characteristic crispness.
After much discussion on how Guillaume made his gin, the journalists were keen to know (and experience) how best to appreciate it! Guillaume’s response, as he poured them all a glass of the final product, was that ‘Christian Drouin Gin is prepared like any great blended spirit. The perfect proportions of each ingredient, its balance, its elegance and its complexity allow it to be drunk straight or with ice. This is without doubt the best way to appreciate the subtlety and delicacy of its flavours.’
Lovers of gin (and Calvados, bien sûr, but that’s for another day) can visit the Calvados Christian Drouin distillery Monday to Saturday, 9am-12pm and 2pm-6pm (larger groups on appointment). For more information on visiting the distillery, click here.
For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.
Photos © Calvados Christian Drouin | Writer: Calvados Christian Drouin / Fran Lambert