Some spirits made from America's favorite fruit: Cider, Calvados and Applejack 

Alcoholic Apples

Most of us like the flavor of apples, an affection which begins as soon as we can swallow a little applesauce. And after a few teeth appear, we're on to eating the real thing. Then later as adults — many, many apples later — we're introduced to the hard stuff: cider and apple brandy. Drinking fermented apple juice is nothing new; in fact, sources say it's been around since the days of Julius Caesar. Cider is a popular beverage in England and France, and was the mealtime beverage of choice for Thomas Jefferson, who drank wine after meals, not during. Apple brandy comes in several forms and is a nice change from Cognac or other after-dinner spirits. Below, some terminology, and a few recommendations for what to try.


Cider: The liquid that results from pressing apples or pears. Before fermentation, this juice is referred to as "sweet" cider. After fermentation, it is called "hard" cider, and can range widely in taste, texture and alcohol content. (Cider made from pears is called "pear cider" or "perry.") Hard ciders can be still (the French call them tranquille), slightly effervescent, or so bubbly that they foam up in the glass like beer.


Applejack: A brandy made from apple cider and ranging in strength from 80 to 100 proof. (By definition, brandy is a spirit, often aged in wood, made by distilling wine or a fermented mash of fruit.) Applejack is aged in wood for at least two years. The most widely distributed brand is from Laird's, which has recently released a limited number of bottles of their newest product, a 12-year old apple brandy.


Calvados: Apple brandy made in Calvados, a village in the French region of Normandy. Calvados is made from juice that ferments at least one month — no sugar is added to the liquid — then it is distilled. Calvados must be aged in wood at least two years, but most is aged for much longer.


A CIDER SAMPLER:


1998 Etienne Dupont Cidre Bouché Brut de Normandie, $7.70.
A golden yellow, slightly foamy cider with clear apple flavors and a dry finish. It's only 5.5 percent alcohol, making it a pleasant mealtime beverage.

1998 Sydre Argelette, $13. A deeply colored cider that's almost the color of apricots. It's crisp, dry, slightly effervescent and is so low in alcohol — 3 percent — you could have a glass with your lunch, then go right back to work clearheaded.

Cider Jack, $1.10 for a 12-ounce bottle. This made-in-America cider has 6 percent alcohol and has gentle bubbles and distinct apple flavors.

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