Pommeau is an alcoholic drink made in north-western France, from two forms of the region's specialty fruit: apples (pommes). It is produced by mixing partially fermented apple must with apple eau-de-vie (brandy) – the effect of which is to raise the alcohol level above that at which yeasts can survive. Without the vital yeasts, all fermentation processes stop, leaving a sweet, apple-scented liquid with a final alcohol level of 16–18% ABV. This process, known as mutage, is essentially the same technique used for the production of sweet vin doux naturels wines. Pommeau is a 'mistelle' (the French term for partially fermented fruit must fortified with alcohol), and is classed under EU law as a 'Vin de Liqueur'.
There are many hundreds of different apple varieties known, used and documented in this part of France. Normandy and Brittany (the administrative regions of Normandie and Bretagne) have long been the country's orchard capitals, in league with the 'Garden of France' – the Loire Valley. It is hardly surprising, then, that various apple-based beverages have been developed over the 13 centuries since orchards were first recorded in the area. Pommeau is just one of these. In terms of alcoholic strength, it lies somewhere between its two key components: cider and apple brandy (such as Calvados).
There are three officially recognized production areas for Pommeau, each of which is protected under appellation law. This protection was not easily earned; it required years of lobbying by the Pommeau producers of Brittany, Normandy and Maine, preceded by a period from 1935 to 1972 when Pommeau production was actually illegal under French law.
The most famous and widely produced Pommeau is Pommeau de Normandie. Based on figures from the 2003 harvest, nearly 100 producers make Pommeau de Normandie on a commercial scale, generating just under three-quarters of a million bottles annually. This is roughly five times the volume produced in Brittany.