France has a long history of distilling spirits, but until recently those were mostly made
from fruits and herbs. Most people associate France with spirits like cognac & armagnac
(made from grapes), calvados (made from apples) and pastis (made with anise), but a
few distillers turned their attention to whisky quite recently. This is not too surprising,
since France is one of the largest whisky markets in the world. Frenchmen also have a
reputation for chauvinism, so it's only logical that some producers finally tried to make
some of that whisky locally. Not only did these distillers have access to a large home
market for their whisky, French farmers were also producing more than enough barley
(and other grains) to meet their demand. (In fact, a fair portion of the barley that is
required for the production of Scotch whisky is imported from France these days.)
The French whisky industry is influenced by the French distilling traditions, so some
distilleries use alambics or Holstein stills instead of the onion-shaped pot stills and
column stills that are found in Scotland. As far as I know, there were nine active
whisky producing distilleries in France in 2013 (quite a few of them in Brittany):
- Bertrand Distillery (founded in 1874 but only distilling whisky since 2002)
- Brenne Estate (established in 1920 and producing malt whisky since 2012)
- Daucourt Distillery (Daucourt uses alambics for their 'Bastille 1789' whisky)
- Des Menhirs Distillery (producing various expressions of 'Eddu' whisky)
- Domaine Mavela Distillery (works with Brasserie Pietra for 'P&M' whisky)
- Glann ar Mor Distillery (from Brittany, producing peated & unpeated malts)
- Guillon Distillery (founded in 1997 in the Champagne region of France)
- Wambrechies Distillery (started in 1817 with gin but now also make whisky)
- Warenghem Distillery (Brittany; producing the Armorik blended whisky)
Brittany is part of France, but it also has strong Celtic roots. So, it's no surprise
that the first 'French' whisky was produced here - by the Dikansky distillery from
Antrain. In the early 1970s they introduced the "Le Biniou" - a blend of Scottish
malt whisky and grain whisky distilled by Dikansky. So, this wasn't a 100% French
whisky and production ceased again in the early 1980s. It is also unclear if the
Glenroc grain whisky (produced by the Milibreiz distillery from Brittany) and the
'Whisky De Bretagne' (both produced around the turn of the millennium) were
genuine French whiskies or simply blended and/or bottled in France. The first
completely French whisky - at least to my knowledge - was produced by the Glann
ar Mor distillery in Brittany. These days they produce the unpeated 'Glann ar Mor'
whisky and the peated 'Kornog' whisky. They distill in France from Scottish barley.
(40%, Unchillfiltered, Bottled +/- 2002, France - or rather an Irish/French whisky)
(The origin of the name is Gaelic; 'Cluain Meala' means 'the honey meadow'.)
Nose: Fruity - but not nearly as much as the Glenroc. Polished. Spirity. Furniture wax?
Opens up a little after five minutes, becoming sweeter. Hops.
Taste: Flat start. Dull. Watery. Menthol & eucalyptus. Sweetish in the centre.
Uninspired. Metallic. Beer? Ultra-dry finish. It loses a lot of points here.
Score: 35 points - nothing too offensive about it but it has no redeeming qualities either.
(40%, Distillerie des Menhirs, Bottled +/- 2004, Brittany, France)
(This French whisky is distilled from a mixture of malted and unmalted buckwheat. Interesting...)
Nose: Wow! Seems very fruity at first - more and more so with time. Unique fruitiness.
Like 'Coebergh' berry or cherry liqueur. A bit floral. Some organics after a while. Very different.
Taste: Very strange. Unique. Again the 'Coebergh' association at first. Something soapy.
The fruity start evolves into a cool, flat centre. Fudge? Sourish and dry in the short finish.
Score: 57 points - a very nice fruity surprise, although the soapy finish is a handicap.
Glan Ar Mor NAS 'Kornog'
(57.1%, OB, Peated whisky, Britanny France, Bottled 2009)
Nose: Mellow start with sweet orange and lemon notes after a few seconds. Honey. A little rough, but very expressive.
Taste: Surprising blast of peat - the nose didn't prepare me for that. Wait, it's not so much 'organic'; rather smoke & anthracite.
Score: 84 points - this has a grain whisky smoothness with a fairly harsh but remarkable pleasant finish.
(40%, Pure grain whisky, Bottled +/- 2002 - possibly made in Rennes, Brittany, France)
(After some legal troubles with the Scots they were forced to change the name to 'Gwenroc' for later bottlings.)
Nose: Phew! Very, very fruity in the foreground. Nectarines, pineapple and orange zest.
Cointreau! Mandarin Napoleon, maybe. No - it's really more like Cointreau.
The best grain whisky I ever nosed, although it's much more like a liqueur than a malt.
Taste: Phew again. Flat without any inspiration. Bitter. Fruit. Orange skins. Sucade?
Cool on the palate. Again, it seems very much like Cointreau liqueur after a minute.
Score: 57 points - barely on the good side of average, but better than many young Scotch grain whiskies I've tried.
Far superior to the Blackbarrel, that's for sure. I think it will perform excellent on a hot summer night.
Whisky de Bretagne NAS
(41%, OB, single grain whisky, Bottled +/- 2002, French label but possibly Irish or Scotch whisky)
Nose: Extremely citrussy - orange peel, tangerines and lemons. Herbal. Maggi? Mint?
This smells more like Cointreau than like whisky - but I like it... Sherry and smoke?
Other fruits emerge over time. Furniture polish. Organics. Hint of liquorice. Aniseed?
Taste: Yuck. Flat, sourish and bitter - not unlike stale beer. Dry, no sweetness.
Gritty like bourbon. Orange peel. Bitter citrus elements grow stronger and stronger.
Fruity, sherried aftertaste. Fragmented. Deconstructed. It loses lots of points here.
Score: 54 points - I really don't care for the taste, but the nose is very entertaining - especially for the first ten minutes.
It drops off after a while, but it still gives me more pleasure than the average blended Scotch.
This 'Deviant Drams' section is a mere diversion from the main focus of the Malt Madness website: single malt (Scotch) whisky.
My knowledge of and experience with world whiskies and other alcoholic beverages is relatively limited, but I have plenty to say
about single malt Scotch whisky. For example, there's a Beginner's Guide to Single Malts with 10 pages filled with lots of useful
information for (relative) beginners and the 'Distillery Data' section has profiles for over a hundred malt whisky distilleries.
Clicking on one of the links below will take you directly to the distillery profile of that particular whisky distillery in Scotland.
Aberfeldy - Aberlour - Ailsa Bay - Allt A' Bhainne - Ardbeg - Ardmore - Arran - Auchentoshan - Auchroisk - Aultmore
Balblair - Balmenach - Balvenie - Banff - Ben Nevis - Benriach - Benrinnes - Benromach - Ben Wyvis - Bladnoch
Blair Athol - Bowmore - Brackla - Braeval - Brora - Bruichladdich - Bunnahabhain - Caol Ila - Caperdonich - Cardhu
Clynelish - Coleburn - Convalmore - Cragganmore - Craigellachie - Daftmill - Dailuaine - Dallas Dhu - Dalmore
Dalwhinnie - Deanston - Dufftown - Edradour - Fettercairn - Glen Albyn - Glenallachie - Glenburgie - Glencadam
Glencraig - Glen Deveron - Glendronach - Glendullan - Glen Elgin - Glenfarclas - Glenfiddich - Glen Flagler
Glen Garioch - Glenglassaugh - Glengoyne - Glen Grant - Glengyle - Glen Keith - Glenkinchie - Glenlivet - Glenlochy
Glenlossie - Glen Mhor - Glenmorangie - Glen Moray - Glen Ord - Glenrothes - Glen Scotia - Glen Spey - Glentauchers
Glenturret - Glenugie - Glenury Royal - Highland Park - Imperial - Inchgower - Inverleven - Isle of Jura - Kilchoman
Killyloch - Kinclaith - Kininvie - Knockando - Knockdhu - Ladyburn - Lagavulin - Laphroaig - Ledaig - Linkwood
Linlithgow - Littlemill - Loch Lomond - Lochnagar - Lochside - Longmorn - Macallan - MacDuff - Mannochmore - Millburn
Miltonduff - Mortlach - Mosstowie - North Port / Brechin - Oban - Old Pulteney - Pittyvaich - Port Ellen - Pulteney
Rosebank - Royal Brackla - Royal Lochnagar - Saint Magdalene - Scapa - Speyburn - Speyside - Springbank - Strathisla
Strathmill - Talisker - Tamdhu - Tamnavulin - Teaninich - Tobermory - Tomatin - Tomintoul - Tormore - Tullibardine