Fall Cocktails: Calvados with Fizzy French Cider & Spiced Crabapple Elixir



What to drink? Nothing says fall better than a fizzy, apple-scented cocktail, made with Calvados, a touch of crabapple simple syrup & bubbly French cider.

How does fall make you feel?  Bright blue skies, a chill in the air?  Dry leaves crackling underfoot or swirling down the street?

Maybe you feel effervescent?

Well, I feel bubbly. Summer’s wet blanket has lifted—and with it all that horrid heat and humidity.  There’s a certain lightness of being. A sense of anticipation. Great things are just around the corner…

A world of infinite possibilities is opening up.  A probable move is conjuring the most seductive dreams.  That long-desired trip to Kyoto?  Just days away. Things are changing fast. Mostly for the better…

In our house, moments like this call for a cocktail.  Forget about winter: there’s plenty of time for warm drinks on cold days.  Right now I want something buoyant, something that tastes and feels like autumn.

I’m thinking of calling this cocktail Up A Tree.  If you read this blog, you surely know how much I love our crabapple tree, especially now when the ripe crimson-gold fruit hangs heavy on the bough.


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A few weeks ago, when I saw this recipe for crabapple simple syrup, my heart began to flutter.  The next day I picked a few pounds of our apples, juiced them and simmered the liquid with sugar and a few spices.  Not too much, just a small piece of cinnamon, two cloves and a fragment of star anise.

A few hours later I had a beautiful rosy elixir, both sweet and tart, tasting of apples and a hint of the spices that go so well with the fruit.

The rest of the cocktail was a snap. Well, sort of. I myself was surprised to find a bottle of  Christian Drouin Calvados in depths of  the Dutch Indonesian armoire. This apple brandy, made in Normandy, delivers a serious punch. Try a sip or two and you’ll see what I mean.

In Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris, A. J. Liebling purred about the virtues of Calvados, calling it “the blessed liquid,” saying that it has “a warmer touch to the heart” than almost any other alcohol.

Sadly, though, it seems that the wondrous brandy has lost its cachet in France.

But wait: In today’s New York Times Travel Section, there’s a marvelous piece about a revival of interest in Calvados. In “Young Producers, Age Old Spirits,” (Travel, p. 6, October 19, 2014), Jason Wilson writes that a new generation of producers is trying to bring Calvados into the 21st century, both through innovation and by returning to “traditional farming and distilling methods.” He says that younger brandies, such as the one lurking in the back of our liquor cabinet, tend to be around 17 percent alcohol—hence the wallop—while aged brandies tend to have more intriguing complexity.

Here’s the thing: Shaken with a little crabapple elixir and ice, that young Calvados becomes seductively sweet. Instead of a punch in the face, the apple-flavored wallop hits you gently. It’s slow, but cunning. To top it off:  fizzy hard cider. I was lucky enough to find a French cider from Normandy—it’s dry, bubbly and a perfect counterpoint to the brandy and simple syrup mixture.

These stellar ingredients make a delicious drink, best enjoyed on a cool, sunny afternoon with your true love. Under the apple tree, of course, as you ponder the possibilities.

I’ll be traveling in Japan for a while.  See you in November!




Up a Tree

Makes 1 cocktail (recipe can be doubled if you’re drinking with a friend)


1 ounce Calvados, or apple brandy

1 tablespoon spiced crabapple elixir (recipe follows)

Sparkling hard cider, preferably a French cider such as Etienne Dupont’s Cidre Bouche Brut de Normandie (organic)



Fill a cocktail shaker with ice.  Add the Calvados and crabapple elixir.  Shake for one minute.  Strain into a champagne flute.

Top with sparkling hard cider.

Drink a toast to fall.


Spiced Crabapple Elixir

The original recipe for crabapple simple syrup appeared in “Upset the Apple (Cocktail) Cart,”  in The Wall Street Journal’s Weekend section, September 13-14, 2014, p. D6.  It comes from Pearl & Ash in New York, where it is used in a cocktail called The Alien Comic.

The recipe calls for 3 pounds of crabapples to make 2 cups juice, but I found that our own crabapples were much juicier.  It took just a pound to make a single cup of juice, so you may have to experiment if you are buying crabapples from a farmer’s market or grocery store.


Makes 1 cup of simple syrup


1 pound fresh crabapples, or enough to yield 1 cup of juice

½ cup sugar

A 1-inch piece of cinnamon

2 cloves

A small piece of star anise



Wash and pick over the crabapples, discarding any that have large soft spots or are severely damaged by insects.

Run them through a juicer.  You should have 1 cup juice.

In a small pot, combine the juice and the sugar.  Bring to a boil and stir until the sugar dissolves.  Remove from the heat and skim any froth that may have accumulated on top.

While still hot, add the spices and cover.  Let the syrup cool to room temperature.  You can leave it overnight if desired.

When the syrup is cool and is slightly flavored with the spices, strain it into a small jar and refrigerate until you’re ready to use it. (The original recipe says it will last for 2 weeks.  Well, ours disappeared in the space of an afternoon.)




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