Calvados according to Drouin | Part 2
New Calvados rituals
With the development of a lighter style of cuisine and more casual meals, the digestive qualities of Calvados that used to be quite appreciated by hearty eaters are less in demand. Forbidding smoking in public places as well as alcohol tests have also decreased the consumption of digestifs. However, the desire for Calvados has not disappeared and new trends are substituting the traditional rituals. Calvados is now served on the rocks, used as a cocktail base or paired with food.
The reborn of Calvados Cocktails
Calvados was commonly used as the base of classic cocktails. Apple brandy, commonly known as applejack in the US, is America's oldest spirit. The Applejack was introduced as a mixable spirit in the 1800s, therefore Calvados became one of the finest ingredients to make cocktails when the cocktail trend reached France at the end of the 19th century. This trend, amplified with the arrival of the Allied Troops during World War I, flourished during the “Roaring twenties” that began in 1920 and ended with the Wall Street crash.
Normandy, the gateway to Great Britain and the United States, also took part in the cocktail hours. From the 1920s one can remember the “Block and Fall” cocktail (Brandy, Cointreau, Absinthe, Calvados) created by T. Van Dycke at Ciro’s bar in Deauville in 1924, “the Deauville” cocktail which goes back to 1930 (Calvados, Brandy, Triple Sec, and fresh lemon juice in equal parts). All along the Golden Age, Calvados was the base of many recipes published in bar & cocktail books.
World War II’s rationing created a situation of shortage of aged spirits. It applied to Calvados as well, due to the German occupation and the battle of Normandy in 1944. Bartenders turned to neutral spirits requiring no ageing but delivering no flavour: vodka, which had to be odourless and colourless, had enormous success. In doing so, bartenders gave up sophisticated cocktails and moved to mixed drinks that in fact were mere fruit juice with alcohol for the effect. Cocktails grew to fishbowl proportions and alcohol became the minor ingredient. On their side, Calvados producers stayed away from the world of bars, considering Calvados too noble to be mixed. It had to be reserved for traditional enjoyment. Calvados-based cocktails entered a dark era.
Considering Calvados mixes very well in a variety of cocktails, I fully disagree with my colleagues. Starting in 1987, Jean-Paul Thomine, chief Bartender at Deauville Casino and President of “Association des Barmen de France- Normandie”, and I put our energy into reviving professionals’ interest in Calvados. We asked various associations that were members of the International Bartender Association (IBA) to create new cocktail recipes to be published by the Norman publisher Charles Corlet. New recipes were created all around the world and published in 4 recipe books.
In the ‘90s with the growing interest in quality products, craft spirits, terroir, new export markets and cocktail revival, Calvados faced a totally new situation.
Until the beginning of 2000, cocktails were mostly offered at bars in luxury hotels and Calvados was not the star of the menu. There were a few exceptions like the Hemingway bar at Ritz Hotel, where Chief bartender Colin Field had a personal interest in Calvados, considering Calvados “the most beautiful, underrated spirit in France.” He created a few Calvados-based cocktails. One of them, Le Serendipity, his favourite cocktail, is now recognized as a French classic (Calvados, fresh mint, apple juice, sugar, Champagne).
It is the mixologist movement that has been at the origin of the current Calvados renaissance. Mixologists’ idea was to offer quality at more affordable prices in a relaxed atmosphere.
They raised the quality of their drinks with carefully selected fresh ingredients such as daily squeezed fresh fruit, as well as fresh vegetables. They produced Infusions, homemade syrups, even homemade spirits. Smaller cocktails in dainty glassware, sized right, provided the opportunity to use much higher quality liquors and offer them at affordable prices. The star of the cocktail was the spirit. The cocktail was created starting from it, delivering aromatic complexity, character, body and length. Consumers were looking for new experiments, different and unusual drinks that have quality, heritage and a story, spirits with more flavour in cocktails. No wonder why Calvados, out of the limelight, made its comeback at the turn of the millennium.
Some cocktail bars now focus on one spirit: Bar Calvador in Kyoto offers more than 400 different Calvados. Coupette in London has a focus on French spirits with a specialty on Calvados. The trend has reached Italy where bars such as Il Mercante in Venice or Ceresio 7 in Milan give a special place to Calvados on their cocktail menu. Today, most of the best bars around the world offer Calvados cocktails: traditional or revisited cocktails, bespoke cocktails, signature cocktails, original drinks that express their creator’s taste and personality.
Willing to understand why top bartenders turned to calvados for their cocktails, Guillaume Drouin, general manager of Drouin, and Alex Mermillod, young export manager in the tequila and mezcal industry, recently asked some of them in Paris. Here are their answers:
“As it is a fruity product, it is very easy to adapt to customer demand and to offer a tailor-made cocktail” Matthew Long, Experimental Cocktail Club.
“Calvados greatly inspires me as I find it has true complexity and richness…” Clement Emery, Royal Monceau.
“It is the noblest of the fruity spirits…It is a highly versatile product that is particularly easy to work in a cocktail. It goes well with syrups, aperitifs and mixes extremely well with vinous bases, be they dry or lemony” Margot Lecarpentier, Combat.
“Apples bring matter, richness, crunchiness and spicy notes” Raphaël Blanc, Sherry Butt.
“Calvados is an intense spirit with fresh fruit that I appreciate” Diane Vandenbrooke, Le Mary Celeste.
“Calvados is dear to my heart. It is not only one of the richest French spirits but also represents the Normandy terroir and the history of France” Christina Hernandez, La Candelaria
Choosing the right Calvados, the most basic step to creating cocktails
In a variety of cocktails Calvados mixes better than other cider spirits. It gives a more intense apple flavour and a touch of elegance to the drink. A bartender tweaks flavours in a cocktail in the same way as a chef uses spices to bring out new flavours in a dish. However, Calvados can be easily recognized.
It is crucial to choose Calvados with care. Commercial Calvados produced by adding sugar, wood extracts, and artificial colours should be avoided. They deliver alcohol, sweetness and rustic tannins rather than fruity flavours and genuine aromas extracted from the barrel.
One needs to know how a specific Calvados tastes before mixing the ingredients.
If you are looking for fresh apple aroma with no oak tannins and no colour, La Blanche, fresh out of the still, is perfect. Provided it is perfectly distilled and kept some time in a neutral tank, it will offer the necessary suppleness.
Calvados Domfrontais, which has exuberant fruity aromas, is suitable for cocktails calling for a fruit-based alcohol base. Since the AOC Domfrontais requires over 3 years of ageing in oak casks, some Calvados produced in Domfrontais, which do not comply with the minimum ageing, are offered as Calvados AOC, aged 2 years.
Calvados Pays d’Auge, aged from 3 to 5 years (Réserve,VSOP) is the ideal spirit for cocktails requiring aromatic complexity, body and length. Barrel ageing enhances body and taste as well as adds colour. In most cases, older Calvados such as Hors d’Age, taste better on the rocks, in a glass. They are considered too wood-flavoured for a cocktail. Yet, in some recipes, Calvados Hors d’Age can contribute to great cocktails, if the additional astringency of oak tannins and its spicy flavours are balanced by the apple caramelisation.
In cocktails made with more than one spirit, Calvados mixes well with Gin or Cognac. The association with orange liquors (Triple sec, Cointreau, Grand Marnier, Campari) always works. Combining Calvados with most fortified wines, dry and sweet vermouths, gives good results. It mixes well with most fruit juices (orange, apple, passion fruit, grapefruit) and particularly well with lime or lemon juice.
Quite often, the simpler the cocktail the better, like an Old-Fashioned, a Sour, a Gimlet, a Negroni, a Spritz…The oldest recipe for an Old- fashioned dates back to 1802: spirit, sugar and bitters. The apple brandy, being America's oldest spirit, is likely to be one of the very first spirits used to make an Old-Fashioned. Few drinks are simpler and more appealing than a Calvados Sour, using freshly squeezed lemon juice and simple syrup. The original Negroni created in 1919 at Caffé Casoni in Florence is 3cl Gin, 2cl sweet Italian Vermouth, 3cl Campari and a slice of orange. Simple variations using Le Gin, one of the first gins made from cider eau-de-vie, La Blanche or a young calvados give remarkable results
Calvados on the table
The interest in pairing food and wine has considerably developed since the 1980s. Sommeliers have had remarkable success in finding associations between food and wines. Yet, not every dish can be matched with wine: spicy dishes or food with a pronounced taste often kill its flavour. Feeling very strongly about having the right wine with the right food, sommeliers in countries with a developed wine culture, such as France or Italy, have traditionally shown a limited interest in spirits, which could, sometimes, be a better alternative. Conversely, drinking spirits during a meal is traditional in many countries with a spirit culture: Vodka in Russia or Poland for example, Aquavit in Scandinavia, Rakya in Balkans, Baiju in China, etc. With the convergence of the universe of bars and restaurants, bartenders now play the same role of sommeliers in traditional restaurants. Their knowledge of spirits enables them to offer perfect matches between food and spirits, served neat or in cocktails.
Due to their higher alcohol content, spirits are harder to pair with food than cocktails. This observation has given birth to “Foodtail”, the combination of food and cocktails. Cocktails and food pairing is increasingly trendy, but spirits showing a great complexity of flavour, such as Calvados, also offer many opportunities with food. For several years now, we have been witnessing the development of the dinner aperitif as a meal on its own. Spirits now find their place her
Calvados on the rocks has never been a tradition in Normandy, but I have noticed it is served like this in many countries. Served on ice in long drinks, Calvados gives its generous apple aromas to both ginger beer (or ginger ale) and Tonic Water. They constitute a harmonious match with the magic of bubbles. “Fine à l’eau”, a pre-war tradition, is coming back as a highball drink.
Chilled La Blanche, a cider spirit that has not been aged in casks for two years to become calvados, beautifully matches with red caviar (eggs of salmon), oysters, herrings, marinated or smoked salmon, or other raw or marinated fish dishes, La Blanche can be paired with fish appetisers. I remember a meal focused on Calvados organised in Calabria and attended by several great local chefs: pairing a tartar of red tuna with la Blanche was unanimously recognized as the best possible association.
La Blanche is also the perfect match for lemon or lime sherbet.
A thin slice of Parma ham sublimates a well-balanced Calvados such as a VSOP. Calvados is the perfect match for apple-based dishes, be the apples in chunks or marmalade.
With the comeback of raw and whole milk farmhouse cheeses with strong regional identity, pairing Calvados and cheese is arousing growing interest, whether it is a cheese aperitif or a traditional dish before the dessert
A good meal in Normandy features great cheese from Pays d’Auge: Camembert, Pont- l’ Evêque and Livarot. The question often asked about such cheeses coming from one of the few regions of France that do not produce wine is: “What should I serve with them?”.
According to Martine Nouet, an expert in food and spirits pairing, Calvados, depending on the kind of cheese, is the perfect choice: Pont-L’Evêque, with its creamy texture, enhances the fruitiness of Calvados Hors d’Âge. Calvados Domfrontais, lively and fruity, is the best match for Camembert, while Livarot, with a stronger flavour, goes very well with older Calvados and its overtones of spice and baked apples.” Further combinations with French cheeses are particularly interesting: extra-old Comté with Hors d’Age Calvados, Fourme d’ Ambert with VSOP for instance.
With the development of international trade, Calvados and cheese combinations are no longer limited to French cheese. They are becoming increasingly fine: Thomas Girard, Head Bartender at Operation Dagger in Singapore, recommends pairing Calvados Pays d’ Auge Christian Drouin finished in a Muscat de Rivesaltes cask with Stilton, the king of British cheese.” It is able to stand up to the very expressive Stilton, highlighting its saline side. As for alcohol, it breaks the fat of the cheese which, in turn, softens its strength.” The same remarks can be made concerning the match between creamy Gorgonzola and soft and round-bodied aged Calvados Pays d’Auge.
The 2015 world champion cheese-monger Fabien Degoulet, considers Calvados VSOP a perfect match with aged Parmigiano Reggiano. You can also try to match medium-aged Pecorino with Calvados Reserve. Italy, having one of the most considerable cheese heritages, is worth conducting some research to identify other perfect pairings.
Old Calvados, with its beautiful pastry aromas, wonderfully matches desserts and chocolate: a crème brûlée, a panna cotta with caramel sauce, a warm tarte-tatin, in which the flavour of apples is enhanced by the fruit caramelization, or a warm apple and pear crumble topped with a spoonful of double cream. Old calvados goes wonderfully well with the flavours of dark chocolate, pralines, chocolate brownies…
Italy united late and therefore constitutes a mosaic of regional gastronomic cultures. Given the importance of wine in Italy, pairings with spirits have been less tested than in countries where spirits play a central role. The few experiences I have had have convinced me that the combination of dishes and Calvados, such as eggplant Parmigiana or fritto misto di terra with Calvados Reserve or fish soup with Calvados VSOP deserve to be explored.
I was given the opportunity to enjoy a lamb tagine from North Africa with Calvados Pays d’Auge XO in the prestigious Montreal University Club .
I also discovered that spicy Szechuan cuisine goes remarkably well with Calvados Pays d’Auge VSOP, just like sweet and sour dishes do.
Likewise, I enjoyed a convincing experience offered by master chef Kouichirou Shimura at The Tempura Ono in Tokyo: a succession of tempura dishes paired with Calvados. Calvados cleans the savour of frying oil off the palate, just as with the fat of a soft-ripened cheese or with the oriental pastries made with oil and honey.
Indeed, food cooking styles from all over the world can be combined in many different ways with Calvados.