Thad Vogler Celebrates Calvados at San Francisco's Trou Normand
Brandy is the focus at San Francisco’s Trou Normand, where Calvados, Cognac and Armagnac dominate the drink list, and housemade charcuterie and American dishes compose the food menu. While the food is excellent and the space—with high ceilings and a marble bar—is lovely, the drinks are the main focus. Thad Vogler (also of sister spot Bar Agricole) and his team go to France each year to select their own barrels of brandy and serve them neat or use them in classic cocktails. Vogler talked about how they select barrels, where they find drink recipes and why he loves trou Normand.
You source your own Calvados for the bar. Where do you get it?
Each January, we do a big trip to France. We go to Normandy for Calvados, we go to Armagnac and we go to Cognac. We get barrels of each brandy. Our favorite is Calvados in Normandy, so we spend a lot of time there. It’s a very cool part of France in general; the dairy they farm there yields these awesome cheeses, and the cider and the brandy are tremendous. We really love it, so we deal with a few producers there and get a few barrels for the year.
What’s the advantage to choosing your own barrels?
One of the main reasons we source barrels is to get younger stuff for a couple of reasons. Old Calvados is generally prohibitively expensive; also it’s so good you wouldn’t even necessarily want to put it in a mixed drink. We look for young, kind of bright-in-style barrels that have a good acidity, and we like to buy them at a little higher proof, unrectified or undiluted—more like 45- to 50-percent alcohol instead of the 40 percent that people will often sell it. That little bit of extra strength, that barrel strength, gives it more structure in a cocktail and lets it shine through a little more when you mix it with other components and dilute it.
How do you use Calvados at the bar?
We use it in cocktails, but we don’t really invent stuff—we’re more into research and looking through old books to find stuff. There are old drinks that call for Calvados, but there are also a number of old recipes that call for applejack, the American equivalent of Calvados. We always have a number of drinks on the menu featuring Calvados.
Tell me about the ritual of trou Normand.
We first experienced it when we were having a big dinner in Normandy with the Camut brothers, these great Calvados producers. Between two of the last courses, they poured a glass of old Calvados to clear the palate and stimulate the appetite for the final course. It’s called the trou Normand, “the Norman break.” We like to turn people onto Calvados straight with that; we pour them a little nip between courses or between dinner and dessert.