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French Cider

The real deal

Authentic French cider has an almost champagne-like quality; refreshing, lovely, light, and with a low alcohol content (2 to 5.9%). Perfect for brunch, summer afternoons, toasts at events, and nearly any meal. The French AOC (appellation d'origine contrôlée, or controlled designation of origin) has very strict guidelines for certification, and is granted to certain terroirs to highlight and protect them. French cidre apples fall into one of four categories: bitter, bitter-sweet, tart, sweet. Producers blend to balance and create complex flavors. The French also make pear ciders (poirés), and Calvados (brandies made from specific apple cider). The cider industry in the U.S. is strong and growing, but domestic ciders are nothing like these French ciders.

Enter Joan Harkins, a self-acknowledged Francophile, who took her last year of college in France at University of Aix-Marseille III, and graduated from Stanford. She never imagined that her passion would lead her to bring authentic French ciders to Seattleites.

"I was a French major with no idea how I'd use it," Joan laughs. "I worked in France for a toy manufacturer doing translations, then returned to the U.S. to start a career. I always knew I wanted to be somehow involved in business with France." She eventually created her own Seattle digital marketing agency called Kitterman Marketing, now in its 16th year.

Five years ago, she and her family traveled to France and stayed in Brittany. At a little pizza restaurant, she had her first bolée (traditional ceramic cup) of local cider and was transported. "It was so refreshing and clean, and gluten-free. I tasted a lot of cider on that trip. Once home, I searched for it, but could find it nowhere. What I tried here was nothing like I'd had there. Back in France the next summer, this time to Normandy, I tasted more local cider. I loved it. Back home, I still couldn't find it. I talked to friends in the food industry and did market research. I thought 'this is it, my connection to France,' and started an import company called Beauchamp Imports." Getting a license was a complex process, but Joan received it a year ago and got her first container of cider and Calvados on December 21, 2016.

A variety of Beauchamp bottles

Throughout 2016, she met with producers in France, finding those who are well-respected and able to export. "They were delighted that someone wanted to do this. Most find the American market to be a confusing place, and are happy that I love the cider and speak French, making this more than just a business opportunity." Joan grew up in Eastern Washington, and her father's extended family were farmers. The French producers she works with are hardworking farmers; they appreciate that she understands that culture and the importance they feel as stewards of the land. "Many of my producers are organic. Some are officially certified, some are not. Those who are not have chosen not to be certified yet use a minimal amount of pesticides. Normally, up to 30 applications of pesticides can go on eating-apple trees; they use three. Some raise dairy cattle that graze near orchards, eating insects and fertilizing trees. Some grow grains as well." At home, Joan met with restaurant owners/managers and people in the industry to lay the groundwork for distributing the product on its way to Seattle.

"My portfolio is a wonderful cross-section of flavors from Normandy and Picardy, with different stories, and producers. I have traditional farmhouse ciders from IGPs (indication géographique protégée, or protected geographical indication), and two AOC ciders from Normandy. The first is from Pays d'Auge, one of the oldest AOC designations, awarded in the 1940s. The second is from the Cotentin, the peninsula that juts into the English Channel. It was just awarded AOC certification in May 2016 after 16 years of scientific submissions. Marie-Agnes Hérout, the woman leading the cider producers seeking the AOC, pursued the certification with seven others, proving that the terroir, technique, climate, and more were unique. Three months after the award, I met her and am now introducing her cider here. I have farmhouse cider from Picardie, a rural area about 35 minutes north of Paris by train. Producers in my portfolio have been making cider for 3-5 generations, often in barns that date to the 17th and 18th centuries. It's like a fairy tale. There are rules about glassware as well. Brittany uses the ceramic Brittany cup, a bolee, and other ciders are served in the equivalent of a white wine glass."

Joan's portfolio includes eight ciders, one poiré, and six types of Calvados. "I have come to appreciate how refined and luscious Calvados is," says Joan. "It is made from special cider assembled and fermented. Once cider is made, it can be rested for a year or so (although not required) in oak barrels, then distilled. If the Calvados carries the Calvados AOC certification, it is passed once through a single column. If it carries the Pays d'Auge AOC, it is double distilled through a pot still. It is then transferred into old oak barrels (many previously used for Cognac, Armagnac, sherry, port), and aged a minimum of two years. Calvados can be assembled from different barrels and mixed to find a wonderful balance, or become a millesime, Calvados drawn from a single batch. I carry Calvados that ranges from two to 50 years of age, made by 3 rd and 5th generation families. Calvados can only be called Calvados if it is from the Calvados region."

For the next year, Joan will focus on selling cider via the internet, importing organic pear juice straight from the farm, and creating an awareness and appreciation for these natural products.

French cider and Calvados is available at select restaurants in Seattle like Mkt., L'Oursin, Agrodolce, Tavern Law, and the WAC, Fisherman's Green Market, Northwest Liquor and Wine on Capitol Hill and on the internet at

French Cider
Joan Harkins

Connie Adams-August/September 2017

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