The Whisky Exchange is showcasing Calvados as the guest spirit for its annual Cognac Show, following increased interest and sales for the apple-based spirit.

Head buyer, Dawn Davies MW, told DRN: “Naturally we could have gone with Armagnac as a guest spirit to accompany Cognac at the show but we have seen a real interest in Calvados, not just from consumers. We are really seeing a lot of traction.

“People are buying more and they also seem to know about it more than ever before. Maybe it’s because Calvados comes from Normandy, which is a place people are traveling to more often from the UK.

“I am also seeing it in the on-trade, where Calvados is slowly going out into the wider bar sector.

“Generally I think Calvados is really engaging at the moment. There are more viable brands in Calvados than other categories such as Armagnac where there is one big brand that dominates. There just seems to be something about Calvados that people just get at the moment. People can say: “Oh, it’s apples. I get that.”

Davies explained that the sector in Armagnac seems more disjointed and producers are not as connected to each other, which makes it harder to deal with collectively as a category.

She said: “Calvados is a bit more joined up and they are doing a lot in France at the moment to push the category. It feels as though they are trying to be a bit more proactive with their labeling. Armagnac is a bit more old school and there is nothing really new in the way they are approaching packaging.

“Saying that, it would be nice to do a French brandies tasting one day to help people understand the differences between Cognac and Armagnac. It would be good for people to get it.”

Davies highlighted Avallen and 30&40 as examples of independent bottlers of Calvados that have a more modern approach to the category.

Davies said: “Avallen has really worked on projecting a new image for Calvados with its modern labeling and there is a story there too about protecting the bees and sustainability. It is also lighter and fresher, which is better for mixing. The packaging and positioning works for younger producers.”

The Whisky Exchange has 89 variants of Calvados available online ranging from younger, three-year old options to older vintages with prices from £30 a bottle to £600. Two of the company’s retail outlets – London Bridge and Great Portland Street – have bigger ranges of Calvados with about 20 products at any one time. 

Davies added: “I increased the range about two years ago. We import from three different suppliers, who we think are amazing. We will look at doing more in the future. They have done really well and we do nice volumes with them. There is definitely growth in Calvados and I think there is generally more consumer interest. People want to try it and apple is a flavour that people know. You see it also from the cider brandies from Somerset that are attracting more interest, and this all helps with recognition and growth for the category. It’s also a great flavour to work with.”

The Whisky Exchange has seen a boost in retail sales and a surge in growth for Calvados, which it said grew 37% year-on-year for the year to December 2019.

The Cognac Show takes place on April 24 and 25, 2020 at Glaziers Hall in London Bridge. The show aims to celebrate the big Cognac houses such as Remy Martin, Hennessy and Frapin, alongside smaller producers, and “everything they create in the chalky hills of western France”.

The show will include tasting sessions with more than 150 Cognac’s available to try and cocktails “served up by one of the region’s best-known names”.