Sustainable drinks brand Avallen has partnered with Difford’s Guide and premium drinks distributer Mangrove UK to launch the very first World Calvados Day, which took place earlier this week on Tuesday 20 October. We caught up with Stephanie Jordan, Drinks Business Woman of the Year 2020 and Avallen co-founder, to find out more about Normandy’s first sustainable calvados…
Hi Stephanie, thanks for taking the time to chat to us today! Would you be able to sum up Avallen in a nutshell?
Hello! Of course – Avallen is a calvados made from 40 different varieties of apple from 300 different orchards, all located in the Manche département in Normandy. In a drinks category that tends to be dominated by more traditional distillers, the Avallen brand represents a younger, fresher, more apple-filled approach to calvados production. We love apples so much that even our labels are made from them!
Your branding is definitely fresh! Perhaps you could tell us about the story behind it?
The short version of the story is that Tim (Etherington-Judge, Avallen’s other co-founder) and I both met when working at Diageo, a big drinks corporate that does not own a calvados. We would often discuss how we wanted to create a drinks brand with planet positivity at its core, a brand that would give back more than it takes, that would educate on climate change and the importance of regenerative agriculture. We also wanted that brand to show bartenders that they could pour with purpose and the general public that it could still enjoy great tasting drinks while doing good to our bee-autiful world.
With all this in mind, we decided to put our heads and savings together to create something we bee-lieve to be very special. We started by stepping back and trying to think differently about the industry and we realised very quickly that the raw material (what you derive the alcohol from) is what had the biggest impact on the environment vs. just the packaging and marketing materials, etc. So we applied four metrics – water usage, pesticide usage, loss of biodiversity and CO2 emissions – comparing traditional categories such as whisky and gin (grain), rum (sugar cane) and tequila (agave) with calvados (apples and pears). Our lovely apples won every time!
You certainly love your apples! So are you saying that calvados is better for the environment?
We bee-lieve that apples are by far the most sustainable base material to derive alcohol from! Apple trees act as powerful CO2 sinks, removing it from the air and locking it up for the life of the tree. It’s no secret that trees are a powerful tool against climate change. Furthermore, apple orchards are ‘mosaic habitats’ that provide an excellent home for a large variety of biodiversity. Beyond the water used to wash the apples, which is recycled 25 times, no additional water is required to turn apples into cider. In fact, the rules of calvados production state that orchards can’t be irrigated, so we like to say, ‘Avallen is made with nothing but apples, water and time.’
Interestingly, the Manche département is also one of the first zero-pesticide regions in France, which in turn was one of the first countries in Europe to ban the five most harmful neonicotinoid pesticides to have been linked to dramatic insect loss. What with my love of French terroir and Tim’s quest to save the planet – he’s a leading drinks industry advocate for sustainability, wellness and positive action – we thought, what better place to produce our calvados than there?
Next on the agenda was to find a calvados producer to partner up with. Cue Pierre Martin Neuhaus of the Domaine du Coquerel, a distillery near the town of Saint-Hilaire-du-Harcouet that’s been making calvados since 1937. Pierre’s distillery is one of the best in Normandy because it only uses pesticide-free apples and pears; all from within a 40km radius, plus it does all of its own cider production, distillation and ageing. There’s complete transparency across its production methods and best practices all round, which is super inspiring. In conclusion, us working together was destiny!
You’ve said ‘bee’ three times now! I’m guessing Avallen calvados has something to do with them too?
Bee-en sûr! We’re keen advocates of our ‘bee-ing positive’ campaign! Bees are the most valuable species to mankind, and these fuzzy winged warriors are responsible for pollinating our lovely French apple blossom! Wild bees in particular are in decline due to factors like pesticides and urbanisation. How can we counteract this? Well, with every bottle of Avallen calvados sold, we donate €0.50 to organisations and charities that champion the protection of bees, the restoration of their habitats and the ban of harmful neonicotinoids. For example, in the UK, we work with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. In addition to that, we’re also working towards planting 10,000 flowering plants over the next three years using the money generated by bar partnerships and POS, as well as restoring the wild meadows around the distillery.
Delicious calvados, money going to a good cause… it’s win win! So where can we buy Avallen?
Lots of places! You can find it online at Ocado, Fortnum & Mason, The Whisky Exchange, Master of Malt, My Green Pod and Virgin Drinks. Or if you fancy drinking it in a bar, head to the Connaught and the Savoy in London, or the Westbury in Dublin, Covid-19 restrictions allowing, of course!*
How would you recommend we enjoy it? Neat? In a cocktail?
One of my favourite calvados cocktails is the ‘Delicious Sour’ – take 35ml Avallen, 35ml crème de pêche, 20ml lemon juice, three dashes of Ms Better’s Miraculous Foamer Bitters and a dash of sugar syrup (optional), shake and strain, serve in a coupette glass, garnish with a slice of dried apple – et puis voilà!*
Last question (we have to ask) – what’s the story behind the name?
The name ‘Avallen’ is a reference to all the various similarities between Normandy and Cornwall. Tim is Cornish, and both Cornwall and particularly the Manche department of Normandy share similar landscapes, heritage AND a St Michael’s Mount – the Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy’s case! ‘Avallen’ means ‘apple tree’ in Old Cornish, with ‘aval’ meaning ‘apple’ – ‘avalon’ for example means ‘isle of apples’.
Aha, we see! Well, we love the brand and we can’t wait to love the drink! Thank you so much for chatting to us today Steph!
For more information on Avallen and to find out more about co-founders Stephanie and Tim, visit the Avallen website.
For more information on Normandy food and drink, visit the Normandy Tourism website.
All photos © Avallen | Text: F. Lambert / Normandy Tourism