Cask Strength Calva-duel: Merval and Breuil 

As someone whose favorite spirits tend to be cask strength ester bombs and 70+% agricoles blancs, getting into French brandies has required some recalibration. Traditionally, many French brandies are diluted to the 40-45% range. Though they can be incredibly flavorful even at a lower proof, it’s obviously going to be a very different experience from 60+% tropically aged rum. 

Fortunately for my situation, I have been able to find a few expressions of brut de fut calvados. Both of these were made according to the guidelines of their respective AOCs and bottled without dilution.

Domaine de Merval 2002 18yr Single Barrel #103

Domaine de Merval was established in 1988 to revitalize the production of cider in Haute-Normandie. Since 1990, it has been the venue for Lycée du Pays de Bray, an agricultural school with a focus on apple cultivation and the production of cider and calvados. This batch was distilled in 2002, aged eighteen years in oak, and bottled at a cask strength of 50.8%.

On the nose, I get dry and funky cider, wet leaves, unscented soap (Dr. Bronner’s specifically comes to mind), mint, black pepper, nutmeg, and dried fig. I do smell some apples, too – maybe Golden Delicious.

On the palate, there’s plenty of dry oak and a very prominent popsicle stick note. It’s almost like there was a popsicle made from Golden Delicious apples and Bartlett pears, but now the popsicle is gone and I’m licking the residue left on the stick. There’s also some clove, nutmeg, and Sichuan peppercorn.

Overall, this is pretty good. It seems to me like it’s missing some needed aspect of apple-y freshness or even cider-y funk. Although the retail price of $160 isn’t too unreasonable for a product like this, I would probably still pass on the opportunity to buy a full bottle. (6/10)

Château de Breuil 15yr Fut No. #14001

Abiding by the requirements of the Pays d’Auge AOC, this calvados is double distilled in an alembic pot still. This barrel sat in the chateau’s cellar for fifteen years before being bottled without dilution at 48.6%.

The nose here is more dessert-y and rich than the Merval. I smell baked apples, graham cracker, black tea, aftershave, wet leaves, prairie grass, fresh soil, and chlorinated pool water.

The palate continues to develop the apple dessert flavors with notes of baked Rome and Honeycrisp apples, baked orange, cinnamon, clove, caramel, graham cracker, heavily steeped black tea, and banana tea. I would describe it as being more oaky than the Merval, but it’s a different style of oak, one that’s less dry and austere. 

This is apple-forward, decadent, and really fun to drink. Apparently it can still be found out in the wild, and if you can get it for less than $100 like I did you’ll be making out like a bandit. Really hoping we see more products like this from Breuil. (7/10)