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Drink of the Week: Calvados Cocktail

This is another forgotten drink recipe from the Prohibition era. It appears in print as early as Harry Craddock's Savoy Cocktail Book but we picked it up in Ted Haigh's excellent Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. As you might have guessed, it uses calvados as the base spirit. Like cognac, calvados is a type of brandy from France, although instead of grapes it comes from apples. Past recipes on Summit Sips that have featured apple brandy are divided among drinks like the Jack Rose and the Newark that make use of its American cousin, Applejack, and others such as the Widow's Kiss and our own Circean that contain the more refined French calvados. It's one of those spirits that seems to be overlooked by a lot of people and that's a shame, but it's not why this cocktail recipe almost disappeared.

Up until a few years ago, orange bitters was virtually impossible to find. If you had time and the inclination you could make some yourself, provided you could find a recipe. And that's exactly what we did many years back--we dried orange peels, toasted spices, macerated in alcohol for weeks, and so on. It can be pretty rewarding to make your own cocktail bitters but it takes time and effort not to mention careful notes and technique to be consistent, and your results may or may not be what you want. Most of us would rather just buy a product that we know is authentic. Thanks to a few curious and enterprising cocktail luminaries, we now have several versions of commercial orange bitters from which to choose. Were it not for the efforts of a few, cocktails such as this one may not be enjoyed by many, since the Calvados Cocktail requires more than a mere dash or two.

Calvados Cocktail
1.5 oz calvados
1.5 oz orange juice
.75 oz Cointreau
.75 oz orange bitters

Shake over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a orange wheel.

Don't pour one of these expecting an apple flavored sipper. It's all about the orange. Ironically, the juice probably provides the least effect with most of the orange flavor coming from the Cointreau and the bitters. The calvados is certainly present in the sip, but the apple flavors take a back seat to all of this citrus.

It shouldn't be such a surprise, but the moment the first sip hits your lips you  taste the orange bitters. Rarely do we see cocktail bitters doled out in such high proportions. At 3/4 of an ounce, the bitters serves as a modifier ingredient. Normally, just a few dashes in a cocktail will do, but here, we taste the full flavor of this ingredient. We used Regans' Orange Bitters No. 6 and in this drink, it's reminiscent of sucking on an orange peel garnish. It's that intense, and the orange juice probably does more to tone down the effect than add to it.

And yet, after the second sip or three, you start to recognize the virtue of this cocktail. It's not really about the novelty of using so much cocktail bitters. Considering other drinks that may contain a more herbal Italian amaro, it's somewhat refreshing to have this much crispy orange, and at 90-proof, the Regans could get away with slapping a different label on the stuff and selling it as a spiritous digestif. Of course, that would place it into a different beverage category making it subject to all kinds of regulations and taxes and so forth.

When it's all said and done, we were left wondering what happened to the apple? This was supposed to be the Calvados Cocktail, so where's the calvados? The answer lies perhaps with the fact that a brandy in general is going to be smoother than say, whiskey in a drink like this. And like mixed fruit juices, apple often provides the foundation upon which the other flavors develop. That's what's going on in this drink. The rich, fruit-forward nature of this cocktail likely has a lot to do with the spirit helping to bolster that effect. However, not everyone agrees with these proportions. Feel free to tweak the amount of bitters you add and adjust to your own personal tastes.

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