Charles Oates Fine Apple Brandy is an Australian homage to calvados

The latest small batch release from a Tasmanian distiller is here, with heady price tag to match.

But this time it isn't whisky. Charles Oates Fine Apple Brandy is an Australian homage to the French spirit known as calvados.

It has been created from distilling Willie Smith's apple cider, meaning every bottle is filled with juice pressed from fruit grown in the Huon Valley, Tasmania.

It cannot be known under the French name because, similarly to champagne, calvados is an appellation reserved for apple brandy from the Normandy region of France.

New Normandy

The spirit is ubiquitous in Normandy, where it ranges vastly in quality from being a peasant drink distilled by farmers, to a fine spirit enjoyed by royalty.

"It's very much analogous to armagnac and cognac, because you have entry level cognac and you have top end cognac," says Dr Tim Jones, head cider maker & distiller at Willie Smith's & Charles Oates.

"You can rock into a bar and have a cafe calvo, which is what the Normans will have – basically a coffee with a shot of dodgy cheap calvados in it."

At $80 for 200ml, you won't be doing that with Charles Oates Fine Apple Brandy, which founder Sam Reid of Willie Smith's Cider hopes is the start of another important spirit segment for Tasmania.

"We're the Apple Isle, and we should really be known for apple spirits moreso than whisky. We hope in years to come that may well be the case," he says.

"I think it will go really well with whisky drinkers who are looking to explore craft spirits a bit further."

Muscat magic

Some uniquely Australian twists on the maturation process set the Charles Oates product apart from calvados.

"The oak we're using is from ex-Australian fortified wine barrels, small high quality barrels with amazing characters that are combining with the spirit," says Jones.

"When we use a muscat barrel, you're infusing the flavours that have seeped into the old muscat barrel oak over many years, into the apple spirits that we've got here."

There is also a pragmatic aspect to the new product line, which Reid says will reduce wastage in the cider making process.

"Most of the French cider producers have a still to make calvados, firstly because it's a delicious drink. It's also a way to get rid of some cider if it goes bad," explains Reid.

"The still enables us to make a traditional style calvados whilst also improving the quality of our cider.

"If we produce a batch we're not 100 per cent comfortable releasing we can just distil it and make apple spiri t… it's a win-win," he says.

Big and beautiful 

The debut release was distilled at emerging Tasmanian whisky maker Redlands Estate and aged in a single muscat barrel.


Future batches currently undergoing maturation have been made on Charles Oates' own charentais alembic still – the preferred design of many calvados distillers – at Willie Smith's Apple Shed in the Huon Valley.

Jones says the different distillation has arrived at a more delicate spirit better suited to ageing in barrels that previously held apera (the name by which Australian sherry has been known since 2010).

"When you try this first release of the Fine Apple Brandy, it's got this massive muscat barrel influence, which makes it hugely aromatic. It's a big spirit, big and beautiful. As a metaphor it's like a massive Barossa shiraz," he says.

"The spirit we're getting from our own still is really finely structured with nice top notes. We think the structure of the sherry flavours will combine and complement that spirit much better than a big fat muscat barrel that may overpower the spirit component.

"With our current release that's not the case, because it's a big spirit, so it's in balance."

Rave reviews

The first release has had rave reviews from calvados aficionado Richard Flanagan, the renowned Tasmanian novelist.

"This first bottling is a brandy of superlative quality that can hold its own with the best French calvadoses, and yet has its own distinct Tasmanian character," Flanagan said at the launch.

"I think it's an astonishing feat, and anyone who can get hold of a bottle is going to count themselves lucky.

"The even better news is that the newer vintages, some of which I sampled last week, are going to be better yet," he said.

Reid and Jones advise consuming the Fine Apple Brandy as a late night digestif, ideally paired with mature cheese or bitter dark chocolate.

Charles Oates Fine Apple Brandy (Muscat Barrel Aged) is available in either 200ml ($80) or 350ml ($120) bottles exclusively at Willie Smith's Apple Shed and in its online store. Just 600 bottles are available.