This Autumn Try Calvados, a Classic French Spirit

Thad Vogler, who has been called San Francisco’s foremost liquor authority, lets us in to the world of calvados with affordable options and cocktail recipes.

Chase Pellerin

“When someone drinks calvados, they’re forced to acknowledge the base material it’s made from,” said Thad Vogler, the San Francisco-based proprietor of Bar Agricole (which has earned him multiple nods from the James Beard Foundation for Best Bar Program) and Trou Normand. “This triggers a way of relating to spirits that is fundamentally different.” When someone buys a whiskey, they’re not necessarily thinking about the grains that go into the bottle. But people know what apples taste like and calvados, an apple brandy from Normandy, tastes fundamentally of apples. “The art of distillation is the art of harvesting and preserving a natural ingredient,” added Vogler.

Calvados, which are distilled from hard cider, offer a “glimpse into the past,” when farmstead distillation was one of the methods to preserve a good harvest. The catalyst which sparked Vogler’s love of grower/producer spirits came in 2000, when he had a chance to sample farmstead rhum agricole in Cuba. Vogler pointed out that consumers have lost touch with distilling’s agricultural roots due to the fact that “so many spirits are blasted with oak, so they’re brown and sweet” and the base ingredient is overshadowed.

Still relatively unknown in the United States compared to the other major French brandies like cognac and armagnac, calvados available on the North American market are a tremendous value for the price. Calvados production has not been commercialized, and calvados is still an agricultural spirit; apple growers control every aspect of the spirit’s production. When buying calvados, try to find anything that’s “grower/producer,” as you would with any agricultural product. To emphasize this point, Vogler says, “Ask this of your spirits: What was this made from? Who made it? How was it made?”

Bottles to Buy

Normandy, Shipped to Your Door

There are three major growing regions for calvados: the Pays d’Auge, the Domfrontais, and the AOC Calvados. Each appellation produces brandies with unique characteristics. Though older and more rare calvados can be prohibitively expensive, there are a number of prime selections from each region that are quite affordable. And as for serving, calvados are traditionally offered between courses, to settle the stomach and reawaken the palate. They can be served neat or in a cocktail.


Manoir de Montreuil ‘Reserve’

Appellation: Pays d’Auge
Manoir de Montreuil calvados are made by the Giard family on a 74-acre orchard made up of old-variety apples (e.g. Bedan, Frequin Rouge, Rimbault, etc.). The most affordable calvados from the Pays d’Auge (the most prestigious growing region), this 6-year blend has notes of vanilla and spice with a subtle hint of beeswax.

Buy Now: $43


Adrien Camut ‘6yr’

Appellation: Pays d’Auge
The Camut family has grown 25 types of apples on a 115-acre orchard since the 1800s. Open-air fermentation gives this calvados a scent of soft cheese, but it tastes of green apple with notes of caramel.

Buy Now: $75


Adrien Camut ‘Privelege’

Appellation: Pays d’Auge
This 18-year calvados from Camut has a similar soft cheese scent to the 6yr, but the flavors are deeper and more complex. Instead of green apple, the Privelege tastes of spiced apple with a touch of smoke and bright floral notes.

Buy Now: $158


Lemorton ‘Selection’

Appellation: Domfrontais
Calvados from the Domfrontais must have at least 30 percent of the distilled cider made from pears, according to appellation law. The Lemorton family has a 9-acre orchard, planted with both apple and pear trees. This calvados has a slight vanilla scent and a taste that balances apple, pear and floral notes.

Buy Now: $42


Lemorton ‘Vintage 1986’

Appellation: Domfrontais
In the Vintage 1986 calvados, the apple flavors are more rich and hints of almond are present. With a good length, this calvados has subtle notes of smoke on the finish.

Buy Now: $135


Huard-Guillouet ‘Hors d’Age’

Appellation: AOC Calvados
Calvados from the AOC Calvados appellation are made across Normandy and are typically single distilled. The Huard family, from the Suisse-Normand, have around 1,800 trees on a 37 acre orchard. The Hors d’Age calvados has a very soft mouthfeel and is a blend of barrels from 1990, 1992 and 1999. It tastes of green apple with notes of vanilla and almond.

Buy Now: $60

Try It in a Cocktail

Better Components, Better Cocktail

Though calvados are traditionally enjoyed neat, they can also make a next-level cocktail. Typically, younger calvados are better to use in cocktails. Not only are they less expensive, but they still have a bright, green apple taste that works well with other ingredients. It’s important not to overthink it, as Vogler notes: “Cocktails are like salads; they only need three to five really good ingredients.” If you prioritize the base ingredients and mind your proportions, you’ll have a great drink.

Calvados Jack Rose

2 ounces Manoir de Montreuil Reserve calvados
3/4 ounce grenadine
3/4 ounce lemon juice

Hawthorne strainer
Mesh strainer
Coupe glass


1. Using the jigger, pour into the shaker calvados, grenadine and lemon juice.

2. Fill shaker with ice. Shake until well chilled.

3. Double strain mixture into coupe glass. Serve.

Honeymoon Cocktail

2 ounces Lemorton Selection calvados
1/2 ounce Benedictine
1/2 ounce triple sec
1/2 ounce lemon juice

Hawthorne strainer
Mesh strainer
Coupe glass


1. Using the jigger, pour into the shaker calvados, Benedictine, triple sec and lemon juice.

2. Fill shaker with ice. Shake until well chilled.

3. Double strain mixture into coupe glass.

4. Garnish with a twist of lemon. Serve.

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