It’s no surprise French turning to whisky stills
Celebrated for champagne, claret and cognac, the French are not known for their savoirfaire in producing whisky – but that could be about to change.
The French are seeking to exploit their winemaking expertise to make whiskies with distinctively Gallic aromas.
The French drink more whisky per head than any other nation, with the average consumption by an adult in France at 2.15l a year, according to the Euromonitor research agency.
Uruguay is second, the US third, and the UK trails in seventh place with 1.25l litres.
Whiskies are often matured in oak casks previously used for sherry or bourbon as a way of enriching the flavour, but French producers are starting to age whiskies in old wine barrels to enhance the bouquet.
French Federation of Whisky Producers president Philippe Jugé said: “We’re introducing wine barrels gradually. You can’t go too fast when you’re introducing consumers to new flavours.
“Whisky matured in red wine barrels doesn’t taste good, so you’ve got to use white wine barrels, generally sweet wines like Sauternes or straw wines [made from grapes dried to concentrate their juice].”
France produced its first whisky in 1987 at the Warenghem distillery in Brittany.
The country now has 33 distilleries, with another 30 due to come on stream as soon as their spirits have matured in barrels for the minimum three years required by law for Scotch and Irish whiskey.
Sales of French whisky have quadrupled from 215,000 bottles in 2010, to more than 800,000 in 2017. Most is for domestic consumption, with less than 10% being exported.
Warenghem CEO David Roussier said: “At the beginning people told us we were crazy. First we made a blend to be sold in supermarkets, but now we can allow ourselves to be more original with more sophisticated single malts.”
Ninety per cent of French whiskies are single malts, but whisky made in France only accounts for 0.4% of total sales.
But French producers are optimistic they can increase their market share.
“The global demand for whisky is greater than supply, which is why prices have doubled or tripled in the past 20 years,” Jugé said.
The French are hoping to emulate the success of Japanese whisky, which has won over international connoisseurs in the past two decades.
Christophe Fargier, of the Ninkasi brewery in Lyon, which recently launched its first whisky, said: “France can make very good whiskies because it has all the necessary raw materials – barley, malt and pure water – as well as expertise in distillation and ageing of cognac, other spirits and, of course, wine.”
The country holds two of four European Union licences for whiskies produced under a “Protected Geographical Indication”. – The Telegraph
NOT ONLY WINE: The French drink more whisky per head than any other nation
STEPPING OUT: David Roussier, CEO of the Warenghem distillery in Lannion, France