I was sitting quietly in my club chair, enjoying a glass of Sant Erwan 2018 (which I told you about here) and reading the great Serge Valentin's rave reviews of Kornog whisky when my phone buzzed.
I'd just received a mysterious message in Breton text that read: "Deus em strilherezh, un drouiz hud on-me hag emaon o vont da zisplegañ dit penaos e ran ma eliksir taouarc'h! Not being completely adept at this beautiful Celtic language, I rushed to a translator and was able to understand the message.
He was saying "come into my distillery, I'm the druid Aël and I'll tell you how I make my peaty elixir!
That's a long way of saying that things happen when you drink a glass of SANT ERWAN!
In any case, if you're used to reading me, you know that it doesn't take much to wake BRAD PEAT up and send him off to discover France.
On the message, the address indicated a well-known place in the Côte d'Armor region that I'd already seen on previous trips, but the name didn't match. CELTIC WHISKY DISTILLERY! I had already revved my van's engine in this region, but the name that came back to me was GLANN AR MOR!
And yet the whiskies to be tasted had the same name, KORNOG! I had to dig deeper.
On the other hand, BRAD PEAT's peat detector had been activated and I knew I'd find some in Brittany.
Onwards to the discovery of CELTIC WHISKY DISTILLERIE and its KORNOG!
When I arrived at the pointe de Pen Lan at the end of the peninsula opposite the island of Bréhat, I recognised it straight away!
It was indeed the building with the red façade that I introduced you to during the 'convidée' terror (see here the tasting of KORNOG SHERRY CASK). But it had indeed changed its name. It read CELTIC WHISKY DISTILLERIE in silver letters.
Unfortunately, once again, I found the doors closed! It's not Covid any more, is it?
I then realised that a lorry loaded with bags of barley was parked in the car park! I approached the driver, who was on the phone. I told him how dismayed I was to find the distillery closed yet again. But he told me that he was in the same situation as me, but that he'd just spoken to Aël, the manager, and that in fact you had to go a little further north on the peninsula to find the heart of the distillery.
The red-clad building was in fact the distillery's ageing cellar and visitor centre.
I set off again, following the lorry, towards a more secret location (whose name must remain as secret as the recipe that makes the house whisky one of the French peaty references).
After barely 10 minutes, we arrived at the end of a road on the north coast of Pleubian, where we finally met Aël GUEGAN, the owner.
But as everything comes at a price, before I could find out more about the distillery, we had to do some major manoeuvres to get the barley lorry into the entrance to the distillery's twisted courtyard!
Once this was done, I was finally able to discover the place where one of the best French peated whiskies is produced (peatdream's word).
As there was no question of starting at the beginning, Aël took me outside the farmhouse first. We weren't there just to see the sea (which was only a few hundred metres away), but to discover the two oak condensers. He tells me that the water they are filled with, which is used to brew the distillation mash, comes directly from underneath the distillery (which is one of the reasons why it stays there).
Discovering the two stills was now child's play. All we had to do was follow the pipes as they ran towards the wall.
And so we entered what can truly be called a distillery in the noblest sense of the word. He tells me that the water they are filled with, which is used to brew the distillation mash, comes directly from underneath the distillery (which is one of the reasons why it stays there).
I discovered a stainless steel brewing vat and four Oregon pine fermenters, and with a superb view of the sea, the two pot stills blackened by the flames that heat them (because here we heat with natural flames).
Aël takes the opportunity to tell me that the equipment has been installed here since 2005 and the creation of the distillery by the DONNAY couple (editor's note) and has never stopped producing distillates, peaty or otherwise!
He takes the opportunity to tell me about the range. It's simple but effective. A non-peated whisky, GLANN AR MOR (aged in bourbon casks), with its honeyed, fruity and slightly salty aromas. I discovered a stainless steel brewing vat and four Oregon pine fermenters, and with a superb view of the sea, the two pot stills blackened by the flames that heat them (because here we heat with natural flames).
There's also a GWALARN Blend.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the annual SANT ERWAN, a peaty, rough whisky designed to leave a sailor standing upright even in the middle of a storm (the 2018 version of which I let you discover here).
Aël asks me if I'd like to try the KORNOG? Ah me PEATDREAM! But of course. But to do so, he suggests I come back to where I came from, at the end of the Pen Lan peninsula, because that's where the casks sleep before being bottled (in a brand new line).
Once there, we went into the back room of the visitor centre to discover the wooden coffins in their damp cellar. In front of us were bourbon casks, of course, but also Oloroso sherry casks and even white wine casks (Sauternes, Layon) and Cognac casks (enough to offer some fine single casks).
It was a bottle of KORNOG aged Celtic-style in a bourbon cask that Aël suggested I taste. It contained a deep gold colour with a hint of copper.
It was with a feverish sense of being in the right place at the right time (and thinking back to Monsieur Serge's words) that I dipped my nose into the glass.
I discovered a warm, mellow nose. No powerful peat, but more subtlety. Very fruity notes of ripe apples and caramelised roasted pineapple on a background of iodine tension. Waxy aromas could be detected.
It's on the second pass that the predicted peatiness reveals itself, with a lovely smell of smoke. It is accompanied by spices.
Like a sailor, I dipped my nose into the glass a third time, and remaining on the maritime peaty notes, I discovered them counterbalanced by a mixture of orange and vanilla.
As with any good peated whisky, I poured some into the palm of my hand. Departure for Islay (you know the island off the coast of Brittany) with great peat as we like it, counterbalancing heat and hot tyres on a barley base!
Aël takes his glass and calls out "Yermat", announcing that it's about time!
Before entering the mouth, the distillate is preceded by an impression of smoke (I really like this impression with a peated whisky worthy of the name).
On the palate, it is warm, sweet and balanced. It then reveals lemony and spicy notes that shake things up and sting the tongue.
It then softens, returning to sweet notes.
Peaty and salty notes follow. These remain in the mouth for some time before becoming honeyed with a hint of woodiness.
On the palate, however, it's the sea breeze that wins the battle, leaving you speechless in front of the island of Bréhat.
On the way down, it releases its peaty aromas, with a background of citrus at first, then liquorice, but over time it's these smoky notes that remain.
The empty glass retains its smoky, salty aftertaste.
Unfortunately, time flies in Brittany and we have to hit the road again.
As I pass through the shop, I discover proof of my claims and of the quality of the distillates with the latest trophies won by the distillery: Best French Whisky of the Year in the Whisky Bible 2023 for KORNOG OLOROSO double maturation and Best European Whisky (mainland) in the Whisky Bible 2022 for KORNOG SANT ERWAN 2021.
Do you still need proof?
By the way, if you want to check, head for the distillery's new online shop here (you're sure to find the distillate you're looking for!).
The proof in pictures