Ancient distillery skills for new French whisky makers

France is the world’s second-largest whisky market, but has no whisky world leader of its own, unlike cognac. Ken Seaton looks at what its distilleries are doing to catch up

Whisky in France can be dated back to an exact year, 1983, when the Warenghem distillery in Brittany thought to turn from making liqueurs and traditional Breton chouchen mead to the water of life, or uisge beatha in Scottish Gaelic.

The distillery itself, on the pink granite coast at Lannion, Côtes-d’Armor, was set up in 1900 and made élixir d’Armorique digestif using 35 plants. It quickly won a name for its plant-based liqueurs and the quality of its spirits.

Unlike traditional Scottish distilleries with their distinct ‘pagoda’ roofs over the kilns, Warenghem distillery could be described as a white box sitting off the road to Guingamp – but as with whisky itself, it is what is inside that counts.

Philippe Jugé

Whisky expert Philippe Jugé, organiser of France Quintessence spirits salon and former editor of Whisky Magazine in France, said: “Before 1983 the only ‘French’ whisky came from people buying Scotch and relabelling it after mixing in French alcohol but with Britain now firmly in the Common Market, Europe was organising its regulations and Warenghem planned its own whisky.

“In June, 1984, it distilled its first spirit for its own whisky, and the first real French ...

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