On the Trail

New Adventures in Normandy

David Driscoll

While we've long worked with Domfrontais distiller Lemorton for our regional Calvados needs, this year my friend Charles and I took a side trip over to their neighbor in Mantilly—a producer called Pacory. One thing that separates the brandies of the Domfrontais from other AOC Calvados spirits is the heavy use of pears in the recipe. Domfrontais brandies generally have 60% or more pear distillate in the eventual blend, adding an entirely different dynamic to the flavor. We wanted to see if we could find something with a "high-pear" cepage, preferably with a little age. We were hoping that Frédéric Pacory might have what we were looking for.

While we saw vats and vats full of freshly-picked apples, there were no pears in sight. Never to fear, however, because the pears had already been picked, mashed, fermented and distilled, Frédéric told us. Located on the ferme des Grimaux, the Pacory property has been in the family since 1939, but it wasn't until 1959 that Frédéric's father Claude decided to try and perfect the art of Calvados distillation. The torch was passed to Frédéric in 1986 and he's been carrying the tradition forward ever since. We couldn't wait to get out into the shed for some barrel sampling.

One of the interesting aspects of Pacory's production is that Frédéric likes to fill at higher proofs than other producers typically do. That meant that a number of his younger Calvados would still be quite powerful. "Would you be open to bottling these at cask strength?" I asked him, wondering if our cocktail-mixing customers might be interested in something a bit more robust. "Bien sur!" he replied. We tasted two delicious candidates straight from the barrel, one from 2011 made from 70% pear and clocking in around 55% ABV. My eyes lit up and my heart began to race. "This is absolutely delicious!" I screamed. Claude looked at me a bit worried. "C'est très, très bon." I reassured him with a smile. He seemed pleased.

After tasting an older 2001 vintage brandy, one that was 100% pear-distilled, I knew we had found a winner. Pacory's orchards are 100% hautes tiges, meaning the trees are higher and older in age (as opposed to bas tiges orchards that look more like grape vineyards with their tiny trees in vertical rows). It ultimately takes longer to grow the fruit, of course (as you have to wait many years for the trees to reach maturity before harvesting), but the resulting produce is of a much higher quality for two reasons: 1) the yields are lower and the flavors more concentrated, and 2) hautes tiges trees allow for farm animals to co-exist in the orchards. The cows that live in Pacory's orchards help fertilize the soil with their manure and eat many of the weeds that grow around the trees. It's a symbiotic relationship that creates healthy fruit and ultimately higher-quality Calvados. 

Look for a few K&L Pacory selections later this year.

-David Driscoll