Apple of my eye

The first cocktail I made when I received the Death & Co cocktail book used muddled apple, an ingredient that evokes fall. Taking the inspiration further, fall also puts me in the mood for calvados, the French apple brandy from Normandy. In France it is not uncommon to have a “trou normand“, a small glass of calvados that is enjoyed in the middle of a long leisurely meal, supposedly to help with digestion…


Years ago, when I first got into cocktails and was finding a lot of cocktail recipes calling for applejack or apple brandy, it did not occur to me to use calvados as a substitute (in France it is not mixed, it is always enjoyed neat). I went out of my way to track down bonded straight apple brandy, hoping to find what the big deal was about. I took me a while, and when I finally managed to find a bottle of Laird’s, I was very disappointed to realize that I actually liked calvados better.

Good calvados has a lot of depth and subtlety, and a beautiful apple flavor (which is fantastic in ice cream). There are probably some outstanding American apple brandies out there, but based on what I’ve been able to find so far, calvados (pays d’Auge AOC) seems to be a better value. So I’ve been mixing cocktail recipes calling for applejack or apple brandy with calvados, to good effect.

Marche moderne
Apple tart and calvados ice cream – a classic French pairing

Speaking of Death & Co (again), there is a recipe by Phil Ward that is just apple brandy and Laphroaig, two contrasting ingredients, with some Benedictine liqueur and Peychaud’s bitters marrying the two. With all the fruit and the smoke, it’s comforting and a bit rich, and a great way to celebrate the fall.

Shruff's End (Phil Ward, Death & Co) with Daron XO calvados, Laphroaig 10, Benedictine, Peychaud's bitters

Shruff’s End (Phil Ward)

In a mixing glass –
1 oz Laphroaig 10-year scotch
1 oz Laird’s bonded apple brandy (Daron XO calvados)
0.5 oz Benedictine
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
stir with ice, strain into chilled coupe
no garnish

Don’t put away that calvados bottle yet… Another delicious cocktail is the American Trilogy, an Old Fashioned variation by Richard Boccato and Michael McIlroy created at Milk & Honey that my friend Ram of Boy Drinks World turned me on to. It’s based on a mix of apple brandy and rye in equal parts, with orange bitters as the accent. Ram makes his version with calvados and I fully approve.

(French) American Trilogy with rye, calvados, orange bitters

(French) American Trilogy

(Richard Boccato and Michael McIlroy, adapted)

In a mixing glass –
1 oz rye
1 oz calvados
1 barspoon 2:1 Demerara syrup
2 dashes oranges bitters (1 each of Fee Brothers’ and Regan’s)
stir with ice, strain into chilled rocks glass filled over a large ice cube
orange and lemon peel garnish


Further reading


7 thoughts on “Apple of my eye

  1. Hello! I know this post is pretty old now but I followed some of your recipes on eGullet and then found your blog here which is full of great recipes, so thanks for that! I wanted to ask with regards to calvados; you seem to favour the Daron line and I can’t quite tell if you are using the Fine and the XO interchangeably depending on the recipe or if you have made a conscious choice to move on to the XO permanently? I have been exploring calvados for a while and tried many. currently working through a bottle of Berneroy VSOP and plan to get some Daron next. Is there reason to get both bottles and if not, which one should I start with?

    • Hi Ben! Thank you very much for the nice note and feedback.

      About Calvados, I am using what I have easily access to and is reasonably priced. I started my explorations with Christian Drouin Selection which I wasn’t very impressed with (too young/rough, not enough subtlety, not enough apple flavor). It is the entry-level in that brand.

      Then I switched to the Daron Fine (Fine = at least 2 years) which I find better, more complex with a good apple flavor, but fairly light. I absolutely loved using this to make ice cream. For mixing in small doses, it works very well too. I went through a few bottles until I found a local source for the Daron XO (XO = at least 6 years) that was quite cheap, so I got that. I thought I was going to reserve it for sipping, but honestly it still wasn’t 100% what I was hoping for. It had a lot more depth than the Fine of course, but its finish wasn’t totally pleasant. So I started mixing with it. Since at some point in time I had both the Fine and the XO, I did a few side-by-side comparisons. For example I remember that I liked the XO the best in Jeff Morgenthaler’s Norwegian Wood.
      I think they are both good choices. One more note on Daron, I am not sure if my taste buds evolved or if the quality went down over time, but I was really blown away by the first bottles of Daron Fine I bought, whereas the more recent ones have been solid, but not so harmonious and interesting.

      How do you like the Berneroy VSOP? IThe Death & Co Cocktail book recommends Busnel Pays d’Auge VSOP which I haven’t had a chance to try yet. That is probably what I will try next.

      Whatever you end up buying, make sure to get something that says Pays d’Auge because this type is more regulated than the others in the way it is produced, which guarantees a higher quality.

      Thanks again for visiting!

      • Thanks for coming back so quickly and with such a detailed reply – I am, I suspect as bad as you on the comparative front and this is precisely the level of information I’m after. I actually did a wide comparison of apple brandies to try and resolve this “issue” recently and sampled:

        These bottles of calvados:
        Daron Fine
        Pere Magloire VSOP Pays d’Auge
        Boulard Grand Solage Pays d’Auge
        Boulard VSOP Pays d’Auge
        Berneroy Fine
        Berneroy VSOP
        Chauffe Coeur VSOP

        These apple brandies:
        Clear Creek 8 Year Old Eau de Vie de Pomme
        Laird’s Applejack
        Somerset Royal 3 Year Old Cider Brandy
        Somerset 5 Year Old Cider Brandy

        They were all sampled using a traditional and simple jersey sour recipe that is apple brandy, lemon juice, simple syrup (2:1) and egg white. I had expected pretty clear results and was surprised by a lot of the findings. Firstly the worst, by far, were the Clear Creek and the Chauffe which were both set apart as the most expensive bottles (may be they are truly intended for sipping). Many didn’t make much of an impression, the Daron, Berneroy and Somerset 3 year emerged as favourites and I have bottles of each, they again, by comparison perform differently in different drinks. I can honestly say the Berneroy is a good, solid choice that wouldn’t disappoint but I suspect it is much like the Daron in that it leaves with the feeling you are missing something better. Another thing that tipples me slightly more in favour of the Berneroy is over here in England we seem to get patchy availability issues with Pierre Ferrand products, in partiular the rums and calvados, so i don’t really want to get set on something I might not be able to get a hold of. Funnily enough, at the moment, we have the same problem with Busnel’s – can’t find it anywhere! Is it still around in the states to buy?

        I think the search continues by your response. I’m most interested in Roger Groult Reserve, Domaine Dupont VSOP and now Busnels VSOP, the palates sound excellent on these from what I’ve ready.

        I’m now quite tempted to ask you the same question on the subject of Cognac/Armagnac. I have conducted a very similar experiment and I’m still on the fence, yet working through a bottle of Pierre Ferrand 1840 & Camus VSOP. Ideally I’d like a flagship bottle of Cognac and Armagnac!

      • You are very welcome. Thanks to you as well for sharing your experience and all the various Calvados you had a chance to try (you have quite an impressive list)!
        About the Busnel, Wine Searcher shows that a few places in the US should have it.

        The St. George aged apple brandy, which is currently being sold for half of its normal price, seems like a very interesting option.

        The best Calvados you will find directly from the producer. There is simply no comparison…

        About Cognac, I think Pierre Ferrand 1840 is fabulous for mixing. I keep coming back to it after trying Martell VSOP, Remy Martin VSOP, and Courvoisier VS, which were all disappointing in cocktails. For punch, I often use Landy VS because it’s cheap and actually quite decent. On the other end of the spectrum, Camus XO is a fabulous choice for drinking neat.

        Let me get back to you in a bit on the topic of Armagnac…

      • Hi Ben,

        I finally had a chance to go back to my notes on Armagnac. Thanks for your patience!

        In the past I used Delord 25 and really liked it, neat or for mixing. Then when I could no longer find it I used the Delord Napoleon instead, but didn’t like it as much so now I am looking for something else.

        Last year I got the Master of Malt Armagnac Advent calendar so I got a chance to try a lot of difference armagnacs (neat only though, as I didn’t have enough to mix with them).

        My favorites were:
        Clos Martin XO 15 Year Old Folle Blanche
        Janneau VSOP
        Comte de Lauvia 12 Year Old XO Imperial Armagnac
        Chateau de Lassalle Vintage 1979 Grand Bas Armagnac
        Baron de Sigognac 20 Year Old
        Clos Martin 1989 Old Folle Blanche
        Chateau De Laubade Extra Single Estate Bas Armagnac

        Armagnac is such a great spirit. Getting the calendar was a really fun way to sample lots of things.
        I hope you find something you like! Good luck! 🙂

      • Hello again! Thanks for coming back to me, I’m very encouraged by your findings! As with everything else I have conducted similar experiments with Armagnac. Funny you should mention Master of Malt as I am probably the biggest consumer of their samples for the purpose of these experiments! For mixing, the two that came through on top were Baron de Sigognac 10 Year Old and the Janneau 5 Year Old. We tried a Clos Martin which came through very strange and unpleasant in a mixed drink unfortunately.

        I’ll be picking up full bottles of both of these and making a comparison with PF 1840 and Camus VSOP Cognacs, with a view to ultimately stock 1 bottle of Brandy, or 1 Armagnac and one Cognac. I think Armagnac is viable for any Cognac cocktail myself.

        On a side note, I’ve just picked up a bottle of the St George Pear Brandy and made an exceptional drink with it called the Bartlett Tartlet. I’ve also managed to acquire samples of the two calvados’ Roger Groult Reserve and Busnel VSOP. I’ll be trying these next month so if you are interested in the findings of both these ‘experiments’ I can let you know what comes out on top!

      • Thanks for sharing your armagnac findings; very much appreciated! I agree that armagnac is an interesting option in cognac cocktails. It’s different of course, but not so much that it changes the drink completely. I think that it is rather underutilized.

        The Bartlett Tartlet seems very similar to something I tried from the Death & Co cocktail book, Little Miss Annabelle (Joaquin Simo) with cognac, pear eau-de-vie, benedictine, lemon juice, Peychaud’s. I imagine that you would like that one too! And the benedictine was a nice touch (another ingredient that should be used more often).

        Please do keep me updated on your experiments!


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