Calvados is a specific type of Brandy that can only be distilled in Normandy, France, as the ingredients it uses only grow there.
While you can essentially think of this as apple cider which is further distilled into brandy, the apple breeds it uses are very specific to the region in which they are grown.
Given such a rigid production process, it can sometimes be difficult to source. This can be troublesome as there are so many good recipes that call for a really good brandy like Calvados.
The best substitutes for Calvados
Fortunately, the nature of cooking with liqueur tends to reduce the strength of the flavor quite a bit. This makes using cheaper or more common types of brandy in its stead much more feasible.
Not only that, they can often add an interesting spin to an otherwise set-in-stone recipe.
The main thing to consider is what kind of recipe you’re using it with. If you are making something like a cocktail that clearly requires alcohol, then you can simply swap it out for a cheaper alternative.
But if it’s being used in cooking, you have even more options with both cheaper and more accessible ingredients like apple juice.
1. Cheap ‘own brand’ brandies
Any type of apple brandy such as Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy, Cedar Ridge Apple Brandy, and Black Star Farms Spirit of Apple all work great for any recipe that calls for a decent amount of alcohol.
However, if your recipe only calls for less than a 1/2 cup of brandy, then it might not be worth purchasing a whole bottle just for that one dish. In which case we have many more options detailed below which are perfect for those ‘low quantity’ one-off recipes.
2. Hard Apple Cider
Generally speaking, apple juice is a little sweeter than brandy which makes it alter the flavor of the recipe it’s used in. However, there is something we can do about that.
If you use an apple cider that retains alcohol content (also referred to as a ‘hard cider’) it will very closely replicate the flavor elements that the Calvados brings to the recipe.
Even if you’re not a big fan of hard cider, don’t worry! The cooking process predominantly eliminates the strong alcohol flavors leaving you with a remarkably similar finish as if you’d used Calvados in the first place.
3. Unsweetened apple juice concentrate
Although it does lack that alcoholic element that the hard apple cider offers, there’s nothing stopping you from adding a little cheap cognac, or any plain spirit such as vodka works great if the recipe demands something alcoholic.
Simple apple juice is cheap, readily accessible at most grocery stores, and providing it’s unsweetened, will serve to greatly enhance any dish that calls for Calvados in a similar way.
It’s fantastic for things like flavoring sauces, drinks, and a plethora of frozen desserts. Anything that’s in low demand (under 1/2 a cup) of the cognac presents a scenario where it’s probably better to use a non-alcoholic juice over an alcohol-based substitute.
4. Apple butter
Apple butter can make a great substitute as, generally speaking, there are often some additional flavorings added. This can include things such as a little hint of cinnamon.
You wouldn’t just go and use this when mixing a cocktail, but for cooking purposes like cakes or pudding, it’s absolutely fantastic. Pumping up the flavor and adding some of that delicious butter feel to it.
5. Pear brandy
So far we’ve only covered alternatives that essentially act as apple-flavor substitutes. But if you’re up for trying something a little bit different, any kind of pear brandy can also work as a delicious alternative.
It works particularly well in things like desserts such as Christmas pudding, or any kind of mixing drink.
Some good brands to try out are Poire William and Mirabelle, from France and Germany respectively. Fortunately, you’ll find these are much more commonly stocked and accessible than Calvados (and it’s generally quite a bit cheaper).
Although the flavor might not be quite as refined as the prestigious Calvados, we think you’ll still enjoy it.
6. Apple essence
This is another fantastic option if you’re looking for something that is non-alcoholic but can still impart that bit of fruity flavor into your cooking.
Because of that non-alcoholic content, this is slightly less ideal for drink mixing, although you can add some flavorless spirit such as vodka to assist with this.
Generally, this is a substitute used for cooking.
Essentially during the production of fruit juice in which real apples are used, the liquid is collected throughout the refining process due to evaporation. It’s highly aromatic and imparts a strong apple flavor into whatever it’s used with.
This apple evaporate (or essence) is not wasted and is sold for the purposes of baking and dessert making. It works great on things such as pies and apple-flavored fillings and even complements sweet things such as ice cream or frosting.
The mixture is quite concentrated, so you may need to compensate for that by adding some additional liquid in the form of milk or oil (or alcohol depending on the application) to bring the volume up to what you would normally use Calvados for.
7. Apple juice
It’s hard to find a solution more readily-accessible and cheap than this.
But be aware that there are many kinds of apple juices out there, some of which are loaded with sugar intended to be used for children’s drinks, while others are much cleaner and less sugar-packed which can help impart a delicious apple flavor onto your cooking.
So choosing the right one is key. Ensure you pick a brand that’s low on sugar content and is generally considered good quality.
Especially helpful if you plan on making something non-alcoholic, you can also pair it with one teaspoon of brandy extract to impart some of that slightly alcoholic flavor into the dish without actually making it an alcoholic meal.
Great for things like Christmas puddings or ice cream desserts.
8. White wine (or red wine)
This isn’t something I’d actively go seek out as an ideal Calvados substitute, but it’s worth mentioning because if you find yourself stuck and wine is all you have to hand, it can serve as an adequate replacement.
The taste will without a doubt be distinctly non-apple flavored, but if you find a wine with a similar concentration and alcohol content to that of Calvados it can at least satiate that portion of the recipe.
It’s still going to taste great, just lacking in the apple flavor.
9. Plain apple vinegar
While absolutely too savory to use in desserts such as puddings or ice cream, simple apple vinegar does work great for any kind of salty/savory dish.
Because of the overall strength of apple vinegar, you will need to use it in a far lower concentration than normal. A good rule of thumb is to use 1 tablespoon in place of a half cup of Calvados.
10. Notable mentions
Here are a few other suggestions that, while perhaps not as ideal as those listed above, can definitely help you out in a pinch:
- Rum or Rum extract
- Apple Brandy
- Applejack cider
- Apple juice and cognac mixture
- Brandy extract
- Apple Extract
- Smoky Flavored Apple Butter
- Lambig cider
- Eau De View brandy
How to choose the best Calvados substitute
Although we have listed a good number of fantastic substitutes, they all serve different purposes.
Ultimately it comes down to the specific thing you are preparing, whether that be a drink, dessert, soup, pie, and so on, then it’s simply a case of picking the most appropriate substitute for that specific dish.
Here’s a quick breakdown, or cheat sheet, to use to help you choose the right Calvados substitute for your meal.
For any kind of salad, vegetable, or vegetable-based dish, we recommend plain apple vinegar. In this context, there’s not too much utility for alcohol-based ingredients (only for some very niche recipes).
Usually, what you are looking for is just that hint of apple flavor. The only thing to be aware of is that it’s fairly strong and concentrated. So you can either just use it sparingly or combine it with a little apple cider or apple juice to help balance things out a bit.
For soups, we recommend apple butter. Although many of the substitutes listed can provide that required apple flavor, what makes apple butter so good for soups is consistency.
If you melt it quickly over the stovetop and mix it into your soup it’s not only going to taste delicious, but also provide that all-important creamy and thick texture that something like apple vinegar (which has a tendency to separate anyway) can’t quite achieve.
There are a few options here. Generally speaking, when we think of rich desserts such as a Christmas pudding, the alcohol content is pretty important.
So for that reason, we recommend either the red/white wine or another (cheaper) type of brandy. Pick one that has the intensity and flavor palette that matches the type of dessert you want to make and roll with it.
It’ll add that hint of alcohol flavor while not taking anything away from the character of the pudding.
Apple essence is your go-to choice here. It’s the simplest and easiest way to incorporate some apple flavor in an inexpensive and easily accessible manner.
We recommend any alternate cheap brandy here, oftentimes you can get away without the apple flavor so keeping a more budget-friendly brandy to hand for those occasions is perfect.
The acidity of the apple and alcohol is really vital to breaking the meat down and making it as tender as possible. So here we recommend the pear cider and as no other substitute can accommodate for both of those things.
Sure the flavor will be pear instead of apple, but that’s a small price to pay to achieve that melt-in-your-mouth quality from the meat.