We use cookies to track your browsing behavior on our site and provide ads relevant to you. You can opt out by disabling cookies in your browser. To learn more, see our privacy policy.

Learning to Love Calvados

Contributed by

Nothing could have prepared me better for my future career as a bartender and restaurateur than growing up in a big family—with all generations present at most meals and wine and spirits consumed in true old-world fashion.

One time, my dad came back from a business trip bearing a green glass bottle with a wax closure. He was showing it to anybody who would pay him attention. Finally, he turned to me and said “son, this is some really special stuff, it’s called calvados. It’s an apple brandy you drink after dinner.” I didn’t see what the drama was about, but that evening when my parents opened it, the whole house began to smell like apples.


For as long as anyone can remember, apples have grown in Normandy and have been fermented to make a light alcoholic cider. That brew is then made into calvados using copper stills.

While my dad was right about enjoying calvados after a meal, Normans drink it at all hours. That includes starting the morning with a Café-Calva, which is typically a jigger of the liquor mixed with coffee and sugar.

Calvados (some say the name comes from a Spanish galleon that sank off the coast of Normandy) differs extraordinarily from producer to producer. Younger bottlings tend to be fruit-driven, while older ones gradually lose their apple aroma and flavor, and begin to resemble cognac and armagnac.

As we were building my bar Employees Only in the summer of 2004, I worked a few shifts at the now-closed Provençal restaurant Le Père Pinard. Fifi, the maître d’ and general manager, always had a bottle of Daron Calvados chilling in the ice bin. He would pull it out every so often and pour shots for the staff and regulars.

It tasted really, really good. But, I wondered, what could I do with the spirit in cocktails? While a handful of classics, like the Widow’s Kiss, call for the stuff, I found that it’s truly exciting when put together with fruit and bitters, as in my La Vita e Bella and Calvados Sidecar (pictured above). I now serve them to special guests who share my dad’s passion for alcoholic beverages.

La Vita e Bella

Contributed by Dushan Zaric and Jason Kosmas


  • 1 Brown sugar cube
  • .75 oz Busnel Hors d’Âge Calvados
  • .75 oz Campari
  • Splash of Employees Only Grenadine
  • 5 oz Llopart Leopardi Cava
  • Garnish: Grapefruit twist
  • Glass: Champagne flute

Add the sugar cube to a Champagne flute and set aside. Add the calvados, Campari and grenadine to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake briefly and hard. Strain into the prepared flute. Top carefully with the cava. Twist a slice of grapefruit peel over the drink and place into the flute.

Calvados Sidecar

Contributed by Dushan Zaric and Jason Kosmas


  • Freshly ground cinnamon
  • Sugar
  • 1 Lime or lemon wedge
  • 1 oz Boulard Hors d’Âge Calvados
  • 1 oz Cointreau
  • 1 oz Fresh lemon juice
  • Garnish: Orange twist
  • Glass: Cocktail

Combine equal amounts of cinnamon and sugar on a small saucer. Rub the rim of a cocktail glass with the lime or lemon wedge and dip carefully into the sugar mixture so that only the very top of the rim is coated evenly. Place the glass into the freezer to let the sugar rim harden. Add the remaining ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into the prepared glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

Widow’s Kiss

Contributed by Dushan Zaric and Jason Kosmas


  • 1.5 oz Christian Drouin VSOP Calvados
  • 1.25 oz Yellow Chartreuse
  • 1.25 oz Bénédictine
  • 1 dash Angostura Bitters
  • Garnish: Lemon twist
  • Glass: Cocktail

Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir for 40 revolutions and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Dushan Zaric is the co-owner of popular New York City bars Employees Only and Macao Trading Co., and the co-author of Speakeasy. He is also a Liquor.com advisor.

(Photo taken at Bourbon & Branch in San Francisco)

Locations: France Normandy
Series & Type: Products
Appears in 2 Collections

Still Thirsty? Sign Up for the Liquor.com Newsletter

Get more stories, news, recipes and more delivered straight to your inbox.

From our Friends

Follow us on Instagram