In recent years, Japan stunned traditional whiskey-makers Scotland, Ireland, and America by exploding onto the international market and winning over connoisseurs of the tipple long considered an exclusive dominion.
Now, entrepreneurs in France — a country better known for its mastery of wine and cognac — seem to have taken heart from Japan’s success, with dozens throwing themselves into the once exclusive world of whisky.
The country today has 33 fully operational whiskey distilleries with another 30-odd soon to come on line — as soon as their unique Gallic-styled spirits have matured in barrels for the required minimum three years — according to the French Whiskey Federation.
France already has 79 local whiskey brands on the market, and sales have quadrupled from 215,000 bottles in 2010 to 850,000 bottles last year — the bulk for the domestic market.
No country on Earth drinks more whiskey than France per capita — some 2.15 litres per person in 2014, according to research agency Euromonitor.
The closest competitor was Uruguay at 1.77 litres per person, with the US third at 1.41 litres.
The first whisky was distilled on French soil in 1987, by Warenghem in Brittany in northwest France, across from Ireland.
Warenghem remains France’s biggest producer of the golden liquid.
Today, the country holds two European licenses for whiskies produced under a “protected geographical indication” — meaning they come from a clearly delineated geographical area and are made using a distinct recipe and method.
Besides the two newcomers — Alsatian whisky from the Alsace region and Breton whisky from Brittany — there are only two other PGIs for whisky in Europe — for Scotland’s Scotch and Ireland’s whiskey, which has its own spelling.
“France can make very good whiskies because it has all the required raw materials — barley, malt, and pure water — as well as well-honed skills in distillation and aging,” said Christophe Fargier, founder of the Lyon-based brewery Ninkasi which has just launched its very own whiskey.