Calvados vs. Cognac: What it is and how to drink it

Cognac in two blurred glasses on a dark wooden background.
you know your Calvados from your 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

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?

Aymeric Dutheil, cofounder of 30&40
30&40 cofounder
Aymeric Dutheil.

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

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?

30&40 Calvados


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.

Read more:
This is the difference between
Cognac and brandy, and 6 other things you didn’t know about the
grape-based drink

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.”

30&40 calvados supplier
One of the many local producers used by


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

30 &40 calvados30&40

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.”

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