Calvados is made from apples, not grapes - here are all the ways it's different from Cognac
- Business Insider spoke to the cofounders of 30&40 Calvados.
- It turns out Calvados differs from Cognac in more ways than one - even though they're both brandies.
- The 30&40 team are hoping to put Calvados, which doesn't have the same reputation as Cognac, on the map.
- We also found out how the spirit is best served and what to eat it with.
- Scroll down to learn all about the apple brandy from Normandy.
Not all brandies are born equal.
Ask the person next to you how many brands of Cognac they've heard of and they may be able to reel off several big names without much strenuous recollection.
Rémy Martin, Hennessy, and Courvoisier are all Cognac houses with global notoriety.
Ask the same person how many Calvados brands they've heard of, though, and you're unlikely to get such a response - they may not even know what Calvados is.
Aymeric Dutheil and Vincent Béjot are aiming to change that lack of recognition.
Together with fellow cofounder Thibault Patte, the French trio launched 30&40 - an independent Calvados bottler based in Paris.
Business Insider caught up with Dutheil and Béjot in London to find out about Calvados, how it differs from its cousin Cognac, and how the drink is best served.
What is Calvados?
30&40 / Baptiste Glorion Bengale
Calvados is a variety of brandy made from apples (and sometimes pears). Like Champagne, Calvados has to be grown in a certain region in order to be called Calvados, and that region is Normandy in northern France.
Calvados first lives as an apple cider, made by fermenting apples. It is then distilled and aged in oak casks, where it is required to remain for at least two years to be properly classified as Calvados under the AOC (appellation d'origine contrôlée).
The 30&40 team tell us there are around 400 Calvados producers in the region, each of whom has their own special combination of apple varieties and ageing processes.
How does it differ from Cognac?
Firstly, the ingredients are different.
Cognac is made from distilling white wine and therefore grapes, while Calvados is made from cider and therefore apples - a fundamental that Béjot claims works in their favour.
While you might not be able to tell from tasting it that Cognac originates from wine, it's impossible to miss the appley notes and aromas in Calvados, which gives people a sense of familiarity with the agricultural product, Béjot says.
In order to abide by the AOC, Cognac must be made from 90% Ugni Blanc grapes (known as Trebbiano in Italy) and a small selection of others are allowed to make up the rest.
Calvados, however, is a much more diverse spirit. The 30&40 duo tell me there are around 300 different varieties of apples available under the Calvados AOC, and the list is constantly growing - you just have to prove that the apples you are using are native to the Normandy region. Therefore, distillers can use dozens of different varieties of apples to make just one expression of Calvados.
On the other hand, Dutheil says: "You will never be surprised by Cognac. You will never find that tiny farmer that makes his own Cognac - that doesn't exist because the market is too mature."
Indeed, the pair tells us that around six million bottles of Calvados are produced each year, compared to 200 million bottles of Cognac.
So why the massive disparity in output?
Dutheil says the divide between Cognac and Calvados goes beyond ingredients and production methods, though, and into the early modern era.
"During the 18th century, King Louis XIV passed a law that forbade people from Normandy from exporting Calvados outside the region," he says. "Because one of his ministers was from Cognac."
As a result of Louis XIV's actions, investment and therefore production of Calvados stagnated while Cognac exports went through the roof.
Furthermore, Dutheil says that a lot of the great Cognac houses were created by British owners who loved the taste of traditional French eau de vie (clear, colourless fruit brandy). The founder of Martell, for example, was a merchant from Jersey in the British Channel Islands and the founder of Hennesy was an Irish Jacobite military officer.
Calvados, meanwhile, "was a very local product for local people, so it was never very intense in terms of business," Béjot says.
How to serve Calvados
Calvados makes a good apéritif or digéstif.
"The traditional way to enjoy Calvados is as an after-dinner drink," Béjot says.
"But, you can enjoy it like you would a good whiskey - you can enjoy it after dinner but also before a meal."
Béjot advises serving it in a tulip-shaped glass, which will trap the aromas, and drinking neat without ice for maximum flavour - "small wine glasses are also fine [to serve in]," he stipulates.
However, the pair recognises that after-dinner drinks aren't exactly À la mode with young people of today: "We're more seeing aperitifs; spritz-type of serves," Béjot says.
As such, Calvados goes great in cocktails, he adds. "It's one of the spirits in classic cocktails like the Jack Rose, which you can find in any good classical cocktail bar."
What to eat with it, and the 'Trou Normand'
Drinking Calvados during a meal is actually quite a traditional way of consumption, Dutheil says.
"People in Normandy used to drink Calvados during meals because it would renew your appetite."
"It's what we call a Trou Normand or 'Norman hole' because it creates a new hole in your belly!" Béjot adds.
So what food pairs with the appley liquor? "We did something with pigeon and mushrooms. We had also lobster and a classical dessert called Paris-Brest," Béjot says.
"It fits well with very rich flavours."