Pommeau du Maine is an alcoholic drink made in the area surrounding the Maine – a river in north-western France – from two forms of the region's specialty fruit: apples (pommes). All Pommeau is made by mixing partially fermented apple must with apple eau-de-vie, 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%. This process is called mutage and is essentially the same technique as is used for the production of vins doux naturels. 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 provenances for Pommeau, of which Maine is one. The other two are the much-larger and more-prolific Pommeau de Normandie, and the equally traditional Pommeau de Bretagne. All three are protected under appellation law, but this protection was not easily earned. It followed years of lobbying by Pommeau producers from all over the area, preceded by a period from 1935 to 1972 when Pommeau production was actually illegal under French law.