Calvados seems to have the answers to many modern-day questions. Oli Dodd speaks to five of its biggest fans about five of their favourites
There is perhaps no commercial spirit more sustainable than calvados for one simple reason: it grows on trees.
As perennial crops, Normandy’s cider apple and perry trees that are used for calvados, not only capture carbon from the atmosphere but sequester it in the soil. Cornell University research found that an acre of apple trees absorbs 10-20 tonnes of carbon dioxide and releases 15 tonnes of oxygen every year.
So, the three million apple and pear trees in calvados orchards are not only effective carbon sinks, they support biodiversity; they are estimated to provide four times more habitat for pollinators than cereal crops; as generationally maintained systems, there’s minimal use of herbicide and pesticide; and as artificial irrigation is prohibited in the AOC, water usage is very low. Very little of the crop is wasted too – as producers are unconcerned about aesthetics, less than 5% of the fruit is lost throughout the production chain.
And while calvados isn’t on many supermarket shelves, it has maintained a fanbase among a bookish caste of bartenders. Cocktail nerds will know how often Harry Craddock called for calvados in the original 1930 version of The Savoy Cocktail Book. Some, like the Angel Face and Calvados Cocktail have endured, albeit in a kind of foggy obscurity, but what about the imaginatively named Apple Cocktail? As Craddock writes: “Take two glasses of sweet cider, one glass of gin, one glass of brandy and two glasses of calvados, shake and serve – this is the cocktail doctors hate to recommend.”
Calvados ticks so many important boxes in the modern spirits climate, but let’s not pretend it doesn’t have a serious image problem. For decades it’s been a dusty bottle at the back of a cupboard. Maybe your grandad will dust it off once a year at Christmas, take one sip then fall asleep in front of Dad’s Army. It has never been trendy, but there are now brands changing that, favouring younger, fresher styles that celebrate the raw ingredient and offer both versatility and identity. We spoke to five calvados enthusiasts – some French, some based in the UK – about their favourites.
1 PAJTIM TANI HASA, LAB 22, CARDIFF
We do a lot with Avallen in the bar. It has a unique and distinctive flavour. It works really well as a cocktail ingredient because it’s so versatile. We’ve used it in drinks on our last two menus. On our current menu, we use it in a drink called the Snakebite Negroni. It’s a reimagining of a classic Snakebite, so it was important to have a product that showcases the apple of the calvados. We found Avallen gave that with a wonderful note of honey that brought the best out of the other ingredients of the drink. The brand has a great ethos too. Always striving to be sustainable, now it has paper bottles too, it has such planetpositive energy.
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2 ANDREI MARCU, COUPETTE, LONDON
My favourite calvados at the moment is the Coupette x Sassy Calvados that we make together with Maison Sassy, but of course, I’m biased. My favourite style is Pays d’Auge, it really depends on the brand but, usually, you will find lots of cinnamon notes, apple pie, crumble, toffee and a hint of funk. Pays d’Auge calvados can be just so beautiful used in every way – sipping next to an open fire, you got it; mixing it in cocktails, you bet. Definitely try it in a Pan American Clipper. The Domaine Dupont Calvados du Pays d’Auge VSOP is a beautiful example, it’s so apple forward.
» Available at Speciality Drinks
3 JULIETTE LARROUY, SCHMUCK, NEW YORK
Roger Groult Calvados Age 3 Ans
I love working with the brand Roger Groult. For cocktails, I prefer young calvados that are fresher and fruitier. The threeyear-old has less of the caramel and wood fl avours that come from other maisons, instead, it has more fruit. It’s a more modern style. In cocktails, it’s sharp and fresh, I use it in a lot of drinks. The maison has a beautiful story too. It’s a family business with an amazing cellar. They only use their own apples and distil everything in a wood-fi red alembic still. Nothing is automated and I think you can feel that in the bottle.
» Distributed by Berkmann Wine Cellars
4 THIBAULT MASSINA, LE SYNDICAT, PARIS
Christian Drouin La Blanche The younger the calvados, the better. It’s such a pure spirit, organic and straight to the point. Blanche is an unaged eau-de-vie, so it’s super-pure and close to the fruit, that’s what makes blanche de calvados so lively, so fresh. I use it almost like a white rum – a blanche calvados Daiquiri is a really good way of showcasing the spirit. It brings a big kick to your cocktail with those apple notes. Christian Drouin is the king of calva, he’s bringing a lot to the category with what he’s doing internationally. It’s actually a pretty obvious choice, and quite mainstream, but it’s one of the best.
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5 HYACINTHE LESCOËT, THE CAMBRIDGE PUBLIC HOUSE, PARIS
30&40 Garnier 15 Ans
I love 30&40’s single cask releases. Its 30&40 AOC Garnier 15 Ans Single Cask Release has so much depth, you could almost believe it’s a whisky but it’s got this delicate and smooth apple fl avour. It keeps the freshness while having an intense body and, at 56% abv, it’s still really easy to drink. The three guys behind the brand are working really hard to promote their region and terroir. They’re innovative and creative but they also look back at tradition. Super-nice people who love their tradition and trust the producers to know better than them and highlight what they do. The Double Jus that they make is one of my favourite French products. It has a base of calvados, pommeau and a touch of rum, for me it’s the best French aperitif released in the past 10 years. I use it in everything – it works really well in a highball, in sours but also in a straight-up booze-forward drink.
» Distributed by Liana Collection