It’s no sur­prise French turn­ing to whisky stills

Weekend Post (South Africa) - - Weekend Life -

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

Pho­to­graphs: FRED TANNEAU/AFP/GETTY IM­AGES

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

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