- DISTILLERIE DE LA MINE D'OR - GALAAD
- MAISON BACHE GABRIELSEN - SINGLE MALT BGW
- DISTILLERIE MOON HARBOUR - DOCK 3 FUME AUX ALGUES DU BASSIN D4ARCACHON
- DISTILLERIE BOWS - BENLEOIC TOURBE
- DISTILLERIE CASTAN - ANTIPODE
- DISTILLERIE BERTRAND - BIERSKY
For this national day 2023 of the French spirits, I propose you to play again my board game WHISKIES DE FRANCE (not commercialized) that I already had the opportunity to present you some time ago. Do you remember the game "Voyage en France"? .... All my youth (I know it's not my youth...but neither am I)!
As it should be, I planted my departure flag in Ile de France and I drew 6 cards that I sorted to optimize my route and minimize my carbon footprint.
So where does chance take me today?
- In Brittany with the small distillery of LA MINE D'OR and its GALAAD ORIGINE whisky
- In Charentes with BACHE GABRIELSEN to taste their SINGLE MALT
- In Bordeaux with the MOON HARBOUR distillery and its DOCK 3 FUMÉ AUX ALGUES DU BASSIN D'ARCACHON
- In the Aude with BOWS and its BENLEIOC TOURBE
- A little further up in the Tarn, at DISTILLERIE CASTAN and its ANTIPODE aged in PACHERINC DU VIC BILH barrels
- And finally in Alsace, at Distillerie BERTRAND and its mysterious BIERSKY !
Direction Ploërmel in the Morbihan not far from the magical forest of Brocéliande. We are going to one of the last distilleries to arrive in my game in 2022.
But don't be fooled by its youthful appearance, the whisky has been flowing here for 5 years already.
In fact, it has been brewed here, in the land of fairies, for 30 years under the supervision of its creator Bernard Lancelot (certainly a descendant of the knight of the round table) in the BRASSERIE of the same name.
But it is only since 2016 (for the first tests) but especially since 2017 that the former trainee who became the owner of the brewery in 1999, Stéphane KERDODÉ, uses the house beer and transforms it into a magic distillate.
As we know, it takes 3 years for the magic of whisky to flow into our glasses, but in the world of Breton fairies, it took Stéphane and his team 5 years to offer us his druid elixir.
The least we can say is that the distillery is not only offering us a quality whisky, but also a setting worthy of the name. A setting full of history, as it is located in what used to be the ruins of an old tin mine closed since the beginning of the 20th century (after a chaotic exploitation dating back to the Roman era).
The place has been rehabilitated first as a brewery, then as a distillery, and although it is still a craft brewery, it still has a nice visitor centre (in the middle of which King Arthur is not enthroned, but a pewter tree, symbol of the distillery). A magic tree, certainly, but it is also the reflection of the distillery's eco-responsibility (short circuit, local water, reforestation...).
Certainly the beginning of a beautiful adventure.
Let's take an interest in GALAAD whisky!
First of all, the name was legitimate. Stephane KERDODE being the legitimate successor of BERNARD LANCELOT, the whisky resulting from the BRASSERIE LANCELOT could not have another name than that of the legitimate son of the knight of the round table: GALAAD.
History will tell us if in the future it will allow them to find the Grail (as its ancestor did).
As for the distillate, the first one offered by the distillery, it had to be "natural": 100% French single malt distilled, aged and blended at the distillery.
Once it came out of the distillery's only still in 2017, it was put into French oak casks for 5 years and reduced with the magic spring water of Paimpont, which springs just below the distillery.
This whisky has a beautiful golden colour (new cask effect). But wouldn't we expect something else from a gold mine?
When the nose plunges into the glass the first time it will discover a nice sweetness with a mix of vanilla and hay. In the background we detect a hint of lemon acidity.
This acidity turns into spice in the second pass with peppery notes that reveal the more woody character (whereas the first pass was clearly sweet).
In the third pass the atmosphere softens with the return of fresher notes but with a more pastry and vanilla smell.
In the palm of the hand, it is soft and sweet.
On the palate, it is fat and syrupy. But the initial sweetness is stealthy, as the wine becomes very spicy and powerful.
Notes of pepper and ginger fill the mouth. They remain persistent on the tongue while softening on the palate. They then become softer again, in keeping with its 44.5% alcohol content.
Although sweeter, it nevertheless has a woody character and a smell of almond and a velvety texture close to the skin of the latter.
On the way down, it becomes sweeter again, but this is only a decoy, as it leaves a long and broad woody and fresh scent in the throat?
The empty glass retains agricultural notes of hay and, over time, lemon notes.
Nice first experience, does it make us immortal? Only time will tell!
I roll the dice again and head south to the Charente.
The next step, as is often the case in this region, takes me to a house in Cognac (the new home of French ....whisky). I am going to make you discover, or rediscover because I already had the opportunity to do it during an epic journey in New Aquitaine -ici-) the most Norwegian of the cognac houses: BACHE GABRIELSEN!
We are here with a cognac house that is more than a hundred years old (it was created in 1905 by the Norwegian Thomas BACHE GABRIELSEN with the purchase of the Cognac house A. Edmond Dupuy).
The house is one of the purists of wood and research and development. Indeed, talking about COGNAC with Hervé BACHE-GABRIELSEN means talking about multiple grape varieties from the region, different ageing in a wide variety of casks and with durations that aspire to respect (up to 37 years of age).
At BACHE GABRIELSEN, for example, you will discover a cognac that has been in the news: the AMERICAN AOK COGNAC. In the world of cognac, customs and traditions revolve around ageing in French oak barrels. BACHE GABRIELSEN offers a cognac which also started its ageing in Limousin oak but has been given a boosted finish for a few months in new Tennessee oak barrels (I will soon have the opportunity to tell you about it!).
Another example lies in Hervé's ecological flights of fancy with his "5" VSOP BIO ECO-CONÇU cognac, which pays tribute to the 5 generations of BACHE GABRIELSEN at the head of the house, but above all, which is organic and ecological from the grape to the recycled glass in the bottle!
In short, a dynamic cognac that could only extend to whisky.
And so, in 2017, the house launched into whisky. Not yet producing malted barley distillate, Hervé and Jean-Philippe Bergier (the cellar master of the house) went to source a distillate as neutral as possible in the lands of eastern France, in order to undergo an in-house ageing!
I already had the opportunity to let you taste it in a partially finished version (here) at the end of its first 3 years of ageing. Now, at 5 years old, it is finally released in its final version.
The distillate that I propose you to taste here has spent several years in the famous American oak barrels that previously housed the famous AMERICAN AOK cognac, and then had a finish in Pineau des Charentes barrels.
Let's continue the game for a short trip of barely a hundred kilometres.
We head for the quays of the Garonne estuary in Bordeaux, where barrels of Bordeaux wine used to be unloaded in a moon-shaped port. We are at MOON HARBOUR.
I have already talked about this distillery (here), which finds one of its specificities in its ageing room in what used to be a German submarine base during the second war.
Indeed, the casks of the distillery are housed in a 50 meters long former fuel tank which looks like a concrete cathedral.
If we have seen that in the Cognac country, there were rebels who had launched themselves into whisky, we see here that on the Bordeaux wine side some had done the same.
It is on the same principle that two partners (Yves MEDINA and Jean-Philippe BALLANGER) launched the whisky adventure here in the heart of Gironde wine country in 2017.
Their objective was to combine distillate with the Bordeaux terroir by offering whisky aged in wine barrels from great vineyards (Château Rieussec -1er grand cru Sauternes-, Château Haut-Bergeron -Sauternes-, Château La Louvière -Léognan-, Château Cantenac Brown -Margaux-...).
So, after a few trials with external distillates, they finally distilled barley from Gironde and produced their own whisky in the shadow of the concrete giant. DOCKS were born.
I have already had the opportunity to introduce you to the first DOCK 1 Château Rieussec whisky (here) made from malted barley.
Just like the previous tasting, we will see that here too we like to experiment. The distillery did not rest on this success. The following year's DOCK 2 no longer called for malted barley, but malted corn!
The following year, DOCK 3 was expected to be a new experience! And the least we can say is that we were not disappointed.
Indeed, it was no longer enough to age the distillate in barrels of local wines, it was necessary to test even more locales. To do this, the directors who had already attached a smokehouse to their concrete bunker decided to smoke .... seaweed (but not just any seaweed from the Arcachon basin!).
And that's what I'm offering you to taste today. The one I have chosen to present to you is made from malted barley (smoked with seaweed) and aged in barrels of Saint Emilion grand cru from Château PIPEAU. It has an amber colour marked by its barrel.
The first nose of this whisky is marked by warm and rather sweet pastry notes.
It is on the second pass that everything is turned upside down. We will find a mixture of notes rather close to those of a maritime peated whisky with a salty smell close to leather and an agricultural peat close to a chimney in a barn.
The third passage is more reminiscent of the wine cask in which the distillate was aged, with aromas of ripe fruit.
On the palate, it will reveal warm aromas topped by liquorice. There is then a hint of harshness (linked to the wine cask). Later on, it develops spices and especially the smoky notes that come from the drying of its barley. It has the appearance of an exacerbated maritime peat with a marked saline touch.
Then it softens and rounds out to become more velvety.
Once swallowed, it brings out once again, first of all, notes of salted butter caramel and then, for a longer period, of liquorice.
A great experience! Let's continue the game
We are now heading for the Aude to meet BENOIT GARCIA!
I did say Aude, you are not mistaken!
If you have been following me for some time, you will certainly remember an epic trip to Montauban (which you can discover or rediscover here) where I already had the opportunity to meet this electric battery and to taste what at the time was still only a pure malt!
Later I shared with you his collaboration with the CASTAN distillery (which is waiting for us at the next step) and the TWELVE distillery which gave birth to the WHISKY TOUR OCCITANIE (here).
The great Michel Audiard and his "tontons Flingeurs" said "one should never leave Montauban". But our friend BENOIT has his own way of doing things and did not follow the advice of the tontons flingueurs. He had already been producing a good whisky in the Tarn et Garonne since 2016 but in a small workshop. He needed to grow up and "now have the firepower of a cruiser and competition guns".
This is why, like a Cathar knight, he left Montauban to go further south in the Minervois not far from Carcassone to Laure-Minervois.
Freshly installed in the old Gibalaux estate in the middle of the fields, he now has in hand a tool worthy of his creativity and his audacity.
For the man is rather prolix!
Like a mad scientist (which he is not, I assure you), he tries to distil everything that can be distilled: barley of course, but also molasses, rice, figs, potatoes and even Sorghum, which he grows himself.
BOWS now offers no less than fifteen references of spirits ranging from Rum, to Gin, Vodka, Tequila, ImoShoshu. And of course whisky!
The one we are going to discover today is called BENLEIOC! What is it? Simply the abbreviation of BENoit LEI (law in Latin) and OC (like Occitania)! Simple, isn't it?
As a great lover of peat, I couldn't let you taste only its peaty version today! 53 ppm, which certainly makes it the most peaty on the French market!
It gets its slightly golden colour from ageing in new and red cognac casks and a reduction with Montagne Noire water.
Peat lovers, get ready!
On the nose, the peat is not immediately obvious as it will first show a fruity peachy side. But this does not last as we have in hand what is certainly the most peated whisky on the market.
First of all, notes of roasted cocoa appear before the peaty cavalry with its smell of rubber and almost paraffin. Ah we wanted peat....
The second passage leaves the most important place to the peat, but the atmosphere becomes fresher with iodized and even liquorice notes.
In the third passage, still present, the smoke warms up and goes more through the grilling campfire and a mellow background.
On the palate, this whisky is very present, with peppery notes that sting the tongue and long iodine and smoke aromas. As it lingers on the palate it becomes thick and slightly softer and the barley takes over a little. But its wetness returns to the fore and from time to time, in puffs of smoke, peat and liquorice make a comeback with a hint of lemon bitterness.
On the way down it has a burst of iodine and a long finish that leaves a thick smoke like that which hangs in Carcassonne the day after the fireworks that set the city ablaze every year on 15 August.
The empty glass retains the stigma of the battle with a lingering smell of smoke.
Personally I like the south and its singing accent (maybe because it was mine a few years ago), so I am delighted that the chance of the game suggests a next step in the foothills of the Black Mountain not far from Castres. Direction the CASTAN distillery.
Once again, I'm leaving on conquered ground. Indeed, as for BOWS, I already had the opportunity to make you discover the famous WHISKY TOUR OCCITANIE (here), I also had the opportunity to make you visit the distillery and its old travelling still during the tasting of the VILANOVA TERROCITA (here), the small peaty of the family.
Since my first visit, SEBASTIEN and CELINE CASTAN's distillery has grown since its creation in 2010 and is now one of the leaders in French whisky production!
A lot has also happened since the first VILANOVA DERBIE distillate (aged in French oak and white wine barrels) in 2010.
The distillery first proposed the GOST (aged in American oak and white wine casks), the ROJA (aged in red wine and French oak casks), the SEGALA (a 100% local rye), and the TERROCITA (a peaty version that I already had the opportunity to taste here).
Since then, the range has been completed by ARGILE, the second peated whisky of the house, aged in Gaillac red wine casks. In parallel, we have been able to discover two bruts from casks covered in leather, in a fruity version and a peaty version.
But above all, at the end of last year, the distillery proposed an experiment that we will taste here through the beastly peated single cask ANTIPODE aged in PACHERINC DU VIC BILH casks (a sweet wine from the Pyrenean Piedmont).
One word on the nose: power and glory! One already anticipates the presence of a thick, warm and camphorated peat. A mixture of marinated and caramelised meat (with Pacherenc of course) grilled.
In the second passage, the atmosphere becomes more marine, fresh and medicinal with marked spices. There is a smell of hay.
On the third pass, the spicy notes are intensified and warmed up with candied fruits and an intensification of the sweet notes of ripe grapes.
In the mouth, it is oily but above all powerful. It starts with a bang, with first of all very sweet notes, then woody and finally spicy (to make your eyes water). Then it clearly softens to let out a mixture of peaty notes and mellow Pacherenc notes.
On the way down, it leaves a big warmth in the mouth and notes of liquorice and sugar in the throat with some peat notes.
All upset, it is nevertheless necessary to finish the day's game and roll the dice again.
This time, we went to Alsace for a distillery that I had the opportunity to introduce to you and where time has no hold: LA DISTILLERIE BERTRAND in UBERACH to taste an endemic whisky... the BIERSKY.
The draw of the cards being made as it should be, it is possible that on two parts, the same distillery comes out. This is the case here, as in the previous game, I had already had the opportunity to introduce you to Jean Metzger's distillery and to taste his SAINT WENDELIN "LE SOUFFLE CALCAIRE" (here).
In 2013, to create BIERSKY, which we are going to taste today, Jean METZGER decided to shake up the rules once again and to create a recipe in this world of whisky, which is governed by ingredients, well-defined recipes and minimal ageing times.
As a good distiller of brandy, he decided to marry 60% beer brandy aged in oak barrels for 10 years (with a solera method that allows to always have an equivalent distillate by refilling on the existing one) and 40% malt brandy. The result is quite atypical. This mixture has therefore led to the creation of a "hybrid" halfway between whisky and brandy.
This BIERSKY has a golden colour with some copper highlights.
On the nose, there is a mixture of fruity and sweet notes of ripe apples and more intense citrus notes (grapefruit). Spicy notes appear as we stay in the glass.
In the second passage, we can find some pim's allure mixing pastry notes, chocolate and candied orange notes.
The third passage is more woody and medicinal with more freshness.
In the palm of the hand, it has the more usual allure of malted barley.
On the palate, it is sweet and fruity but soon spices appear and sting the tongue.
Then there are notes of malt brandy (produced by the house) which soften the atmosphere and then more woody overtones. It is a little different from a usual whisky, as it will have more frank notes.
On the way down, the lemon notes make their appearance and more velvety notes in the mouth and woody notes in the throat. But it is the liquorice that will stay in the memory for a long time.
Once again, this part and this tour of France has allowed to show the extent of the possibilities of the French whisky producers and gives already the desire to start again a part to discover our beautiful country.