These classic apple brandy cocktails are so easy & delicious that they’re sure to make you “fall” in love! Bad puns aside, apple brandy — specifically Applejack and Calvados — is a wonderful cocktail ingredient if you’re craving a drink that tastes like fall in a glass!
What is Apple Brandy?
Apple brandy is a tasty spirit made from apples that has a long history in both France and the USA. While all apple brandies are distilled from apples, there are differences depending on the region, production method, aging process, and type of apples.
In France, they’ve been making apple brandy (called Calvados) since the 16th century. However, it only had its golden age after the 19th century Phylloxera epidemic decimated vineyards all over Europe. Without a steady supply of wine and Cognac, people turned to Calvados and it experienced a huge surge in popularity.
Apple brandy in the States (also known as Applejack) was first produced in 1780 when a Scottish immigrant named William Laird started the first apple brandy distillery — Laird & Company — in New Jersey, making it the oldest licensed distillery in the USA.
Fast forward to today, and Laird & Company is STILL the top producer of apple brandy in the states. That’s nine generations of Lairds holding it down for apple brandy. NINE YA’LL! I can barely make it to my family reunion and they’ve been doing this for more than two centuries 😂
Types of Apple Brandy
The three main types of apple brandy are Calvados, American apple brandy aka Applejack, and blended Applejack.
Calvados is apple brandy from Normandy, France made with cider apples or pears and aged in french oak barrels. Since it has an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée status, Calvados has far more requirements and regulations when it comes to production than American apple brandy. The main requirements are that it has to be:
Aged a minimum of 2 years in oak barrels
Produced in a designated area
Made with approved apple and pear varietals
At least 40% ABV
American Apple Brandy/Applejack
Applejack is a historical term that comes from the freeze distillation process used to make apple brandy in colonial times called “jacking”. Jacking separates the frozen ice from the hard cider, which increases the alcohol content of the apple brandy. Nowadays, apple brandy and Applejack are synonymous terms in the USA.
You can find apple brandy distilleries all over the States, and while most are aged at least two years in charred bourbon barrels, there are very few specific production or geographic rules. ABV will vary between 35%-60% depending on the bottle.
To make matters a bit confusing, blended applejack has a specific federal definition. It has to contain at least 20% apple brandy and be aged a minimum of two years in oak. The rest of the blend can be neutral grain spirit, which makes it mellower and less concentrated than straight apple brandy/Applejack made with 100% apple distillate. Typically, it sits between 40%-50% ABV.
What Does Apple Brandy Taste Like?
Every apple brandy is unique, so the taste will vary depending on the region, production methods, aging process, and type of apple.
In general though, apple brandy tastes predominantly like apples with notes of baking spices from barrel aging and a brandy-like finish. American apple brandy tends to be more apple-forward and sweeter than Calvados, while Calvados is usually more earthy, spicy, and rich. In both cases, apple brandy develops stronger notes of oak, spice, caramel, and vanilla the longer it’s aged in barrels.
Choosing An Apple Brandy for Cocktails
For a well-priced American apple brandy/Applejack that will add fresh apple flavor and hints of spice to your cocktails, go for Laird’s Apple Jack ($22-$25 for 750ml). I also highly recommend any of Laird’s apple brandies. You really can’t go wrong!
As for Calvados, I would go for Berneroy VSOP Calvados ($22-$25 for 750ml) or Père Magloire VS ($37-$40 for 750ml). Both of these bottles are widely distributed and a great quality for the price. Compared to Laird’s, these Calvados are richer in flavor and will add more notes of vanilla, hazelnut, and butterscotch to cocktails.
The bottom line is you don’t need to pick a SUPER nice bottle since you’re mixing it with other ingredients. I would personally just avoid blended Applejack since the flavor isn’t as concentrated, but otherwise pick a bottle under $40 from a reputable brand and call it a day!
20 Classic Apple Brandy Cocktails You'll Fall In Love With
WHEW! Okay, with all of that covered, I think we're ready to check out some classic, easy, and delicious apple brandy cocktails for fall!
I've divided the cocktails into two sections with 10 recipes each. The first are cocktails made with American apple brandy/Applejack, and the second are cocktails made with Calvados. That said, they can be used interchangeably in a pinch 😊
To kick us off, we have a drink that's basically hot apple pie in a glass, and who could be mad about that!? In the recipe, you cook sliced apples in melted butter with brown sugar and cinnamon. Then simply add in apple cider and apple brandy for a delicious cocktail that will warm you from the inside out!
This cocktail dates all the way back to the 1930s and is still popular today for good reason! Ingredients are apple brandy, lemon juice, orange juice, and maple syrup. The apple brandy pairs wonderfully with the tart citrus juices and rich maple syrup, and it's an overall really well-balanced cocktail!
A sidecar is traditionally made with cognac, orange liqueur, and lemon juice. This riff on the classic recipe brings in fall flavors by using apple brandy instead of cognac, a little bit of apple cider, and holiday spice bitters. If you don't have holiday spice bitters since that's pretty specific, any warm, aromatic bitters -- like orange, cinnamon, or cardamom -- would work just as well!
This is a fun seasonal take on an Old Fashioned, which is usually made with sugar, bitters, and whiskey. This recipe uses orange peel, brown sugar, orange & Angostura bitters, and Applejack. It's smooth, strong, and perfect for a chilly evening!
Here's another classic cocktail you probably haven't tried before! It only requires three ingredients: apple brandy, lemon juice, and grenadine. It's beyond simple and the perfect balance between sweet and sour!
This recipe comes from a 1934 December edition of Esquire Magazine and is described as an Applejack sour with orgeat almond syrup. YUM! For this recreation of the recipe, you need Applejack, almond syrup, and lemon juice. So it basically tastes like an autumnal version of a whiskey sour!
This is a super easy twist on a classic martini that's boozy and delicious! Vodka, Applejack, and apple cider are all you need to make it. Add a caramel sauce rim if you're feeling decadent and to make it more of a dessert cocktail!
This recipe comes directly from Laird and Company's website, so you know it's good! It's a riff on a Brandy Alexander, which was a popular 1900s dessert cocktail made with cognac, crème de cacao, and cream. This specific recipe uses Applejack in place of cognac, along with white crème de cacao and heavy cream. While it is a dessert cocktail, it's still very well-balanced and not overly sweet!
Apple and ginger go wonderfully together, so it only makes sense to put Applejack in a Moscow Mule! A standard Moscow Mule is made with ginger beer, lime juice, and vodka. In this version, you stick to the classic recipe but just substitute Applejack for the vodka for a fun fall twist on the cocktail!
Everything about this cocktail screams fall! It's equal parts Applejack, bourbon, and apple cider with a squeeze of lemon juice, thyme-infused simple syrup, and Angostura bitters. The thyme simple syrup really elevates the flavors in the drink and gives it an unexpected & delicious herbal depth.
Hot toddies have been around since the 1600s and are still the ultimate cold weather comfort drink! I love a good hot toddy, and this one is as easy as it is delicious! The only four ingredients you need are Calvados, honey, lemon juice, and hot water.
This drink was adapted from an 1895 cocktail and tastes just like the golden hour! Ingredients are Calvados, Yellow Chartreuse, Benedictine, and Angostura bitters. If you ever need a simple but fancy drink to impress your cocktail-savvy friends, this one is absolutely perfect!
Calvados works super well in a sour, and I love the flavors in this recipe! Aside from Calvados, you need lemon juice, egg white, maple syrup, and Angostura bitters to make this deliciously simple fall-inspired sour.
The Negroni is one of the best simple cocktails of all time! Typically it's made with equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and bitter red liqueur like Campari, but this version uses Calvados in place of gin for a fruitier, festive take on the classic.
This 1930s cocktail is 100% booze and 100% delicious! The three ingredients are gin, Calvados, and apricot brandy. It's super sippable for being so spirit-forward, and makes a great post-dinner digestif!
If you want an elegant but easy party punch that's guaranteed to please a crowd, this cocktail is a great bet! Ingredients are Calvados, elderflower liqueur (like St Germain), aromatic bitters, and sparkling wine. The floral, sweet elderflower liqueur complements and balances out the fruity, rich Calvados like a dream!
This cocktail captures the flavors of fall brilliantly while staying true to a classic Manhattan format. To make this fancy treat, you need Calvados, bourbon, walnut liqueur, sweet vermouth, Demerara syrup, and Angostura & orange bitters. No lie, drinking this cocktail makes me feel like I'm jumping in a pile of crunchy leaves, which I couldn't be happier about 😂
A unique and elevated fizz is worth its weight in cocktail gold, and let me tell you this one is HEFTY ya'll! In the recipe, you muddle apples with maple syrup and lemon juice, then shake it all together with Calvados and honey ginger simple syrup. Top it all off with soda water and you have the quintessential autumn fizz!
Here's another warm cocktail that's great for the holidays and so easy to make in a big batch! Calvados and cranberry juice make up the base of the drink, and otherwise you just need lemon, cinnamon stick, clove, ginger, and sugar. Apple brandy and cranberry juice go SO well together, and the warm spices make it festive and aromatic!
A Collins is a simple cocktail made with gin, lemon juice, sugar, and soda water. If you simply replace the gin with Calvados though, you have a Jack Collins. It's just as refreshing as a standard Collins, but with more apple flavor and a fall flair!
I hope this gave you some new ideas on how to use apple brandy in cocktails and cleared up the difference between apple brandy, Applejack, and Calvados! Sure, it’s a little confusing, but it’s because it’s had such a long history, and that’s part of the fun!
PS: if you have a simple apple brandy cocktail (classic or not!) that you love, please share it in the comment section below so I can try it out 🙂